To commemorate the 70th anniversary of Hollywood's golden year, 1939, Turner Classic Movies is featuring films made in that illustrious year. One 1939 hit that doesn't get its due in the time capsule of film is the love triangle driven weepie, In Name Only. For sure it's a "women's picture," the kind that thrived at the box office during the 30's and 40's, but unlike many such flicks that filled the cinematic landscape with strong females like Davis, Crawford or Stanwyck, In Name Only has not only TWO strong women but also a very strong male lead. The gals are played by Carole Lombard and Kay Francis, the fellow in the middle, Cary Grant, making for a very powerful as well as photogenic trio.
The story is one that is often told. Wealthy but unhappily married Alec (Grant) meets and is attracted to intelligent widow Julie (Lombard), while his bitchy and manipulative wife Maida (Francis) makes life miserable for all involved. That's the general gist, though there are more detailed aspects that director John Cromwell uses to bump it up from a standard soaper. Julie is not only an independent widow but also mother to a precocious little girl and sister to a bitter divorcee who thinks all men are scum and ostracizes Julie when she refuses to stop seeing Alec (Ironically, later in the film when the sister has found love again herself, she is suddenly forgiving and once again loving to Julie. The need for a man to validate her happiness, or even more her general life outlook is unsettling). Maida is not simply a shrewish social climbing wife to Alec, that would make things too easy. She has the rest of the world, including Alec's well-to-do parents believing she is the ultimate perfect and loving wife, though it is made clear that she only married Alec for wealth and position and refuses to let those things go.
The star threesome make In Name Only rousing entertainment. Lombard, who had just married superstar Clark Gable before shooting the film, was at the peak of her career, making $150,000 per picture. Both she and Grant had just come off a string of hit screwball comedies, in which the public had become accustomed to see them excel. Kay Francis on the other hand was no stranger to movie histrionics, and felt right at home in the melodramatic brouhaha. She had just ended her contract with Warner Brothers studio on a very sour note and was cast in the film at the insistence of the star and her good friend Lombard. She steals the film in most of the scenes in which she participates. As stated earlier, Cary Grant stands his ground in the emotional back and forth and lends his sense of the debonair to all the heavy doings.
The movie, made at RKO studio, was originally intended as a vehicle to reunite Grant and Katherine Hepburn after their recent comedy Bringing Up Baby. But Baby bombed at the box office and Hepburn was declared "box office poison" by a poll in The Hollywood Reporter (Kay Francis was also on this list). Hence, the more popular Lombard took the role. The blond, free spirited Carole makes a striking contrast physically to the dark and impeccably groomed Kay, which only enhances the two legs they make up in the torrid triangle. All three leads are handsomely costumed and Lombard and Grant are a very becoming couple. The sheer star power and stylish production values afforded In Name Only make it a should see among fans of the golden year as well as of the golden age.
Reprinted from Rupert's blog, CLASSIC MOVIES DIGEST