Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fatal Attwaction: Cynara

Kay Francis and Ronald Coleman face the consequences of infidelity in Cynara.

OK, so the title's a bit of a low blow. I promise that's the last time I make fun of Kay Francis' ability to pronounce the letter "R."

Ronald Coleman plays Jim Warlock a London barrister who has an affair with a shop girl (Phyllis Barry) when his wife (Kay Francis) goes out of town. Like Fatal Attraction, Cynara is one of those movies that is designed to scare the crap out of married men thinking of having affairs. Unlike Fatal Attraction, it doesn't rely on over the top gimmicks. No one gets their rabbit cooked in Cynara.

Though Kay Francis stars and has some very effective scenes, this is really Ronald Coleman's movie. We watch him reluctantly tag along with on a double date with his friend and slowly get ensnared by Doris who is a younger version of Kay Francis seemingly childlike, but quite manipulative. The thing about Cynara is that it doesn't demonize anyone. Doris believes she understands about affairs and the rules about married men. She promises to go away when its over without making a fuss. But after she falls in love with him, things change and she doesn't want to go away at all. When his wife returns a few days earlier than expected he is caught off guard and confused. Without dialog director King Vidor shows Jim's conflicted emotions in one long shot of him reluctantly climbing the stairs to see his wife. Jim thinks its best to make a clean break with Doris, believing there's no easy way to tell someone you don't want them anymore. So Jim breaks a date and writes her a note explaining his feelings. A few hours later the girl kills herself and a few hours after that his marriage and career are over. Coleman's reaction when he learns of her death is really quite great: powerlessness, shame, and sadness all come through silently. I'd always known he was a good actor, but he really is terrific here.

I also like that Cynara doesn't turn Francis into either a helpless victim or a shrew. Before the affair comes out she jokes that she had many temptations while away on her trip including a handsome young Frenchman. As she begins to suspect something is wrong with her marriage there is quite a powerful scene where he tries to come clean, chickens out and then rejects her attempts to get him into bed. It's a quietly heartbreaking scene less the stuff of melodrama than the rest of the plot would lead you to believe. When Francis finally learns the truth about her husband she stands by him through the scandal and inquest but quietly decides to end their marriage. That she changes her mind in the end doesn't feel like a compromise. She genuinely still loves her husband and it isn't difficult to imagine that with a twist of fate their situation might be reversed.

It's the ultimate irony that the code made a movie like Cynara impossible, even though it was probably the best sort of propaganda against the very worldliness from which it was trying to protect audiences.

1 comment:

kda0121 said...

Ronald Colman is one of my favorite actors. What I wouldn't give for that silky voice of his. And Cynara is one of Colman's best early sound films. Kay Francis is an added bonus, but as you stated Jen, it is really Ronnie's movie.

Besides that great speaking voice, he was also blessed with sad, soulful eyes, showing every emotion that needs to be expressed. That he has gotten himself into a great moral dilemma with his affair can be seen in one glimse of his eyes.