Pre-Code films are my favorite genre (if it can be called a genre) of classic films. I love how risqué they were for the time. I especially love the women in Pre-Code films. The women in these films could teach a thing or two to women in movies today. Compared to Pre-Code women the women in films today are babies both sexually and confidently. Even some of the plots of the films are ten times more risqué and sexually driven than movies today. I would love to sit some writers and directors down from today and make them watch some Pre-Codes. Women in movies today need balls and they need confidence. They need to watch Norma Shearer in any of her Pre-Codes and take a few tips from her.
A few Pre-Codes I have seen are melodramas with a capital “M” but they have risqué or taboo plots (maybe “taboo” is not the right word but that is the one coming to my head at the moment). Dr. Monica is a Pre-Code film that is not well known most likely due to the fact that it is more a ridiculous melodrama than anything else. There is no Norma Shearer-type character or actress in Dr. Monica but the plot is just as daring.
Dr. Monica Braden (Kay Francis) is a successful doctor working in New York City. She has a husband John (Warren William) who is a writer. Monica loves John very much. Unfortunately she has no idea that John is cheating on her with one of her best friends Mary Hathaway. John is set to travel to Europe for a few months. Monica will miss him but not as much as Mary will. The night before he goes away John goes to Mary’s apartment to say goodbye and end their affair.
Mary is beyond upset about John leaving that she becomes reckless and begins not to feel well. Monica figures out that Mary is going to have a baby. Mary refuses to tell Monica who the father is. She says the father is a married man and has left on a trip. Monica obviously does not realize that the married man is her own husband. Being the good friend that she is Monica helps Mary through everything.
John was supposed to be away for six months but after being away for only two he comes back. He missed Monica and she is more than happy to have him home again. Monica’s happiness with John and her friendship with Mary hit a wall on the night she helps Mary deliver her baby. Monica told Mary to call the father and have him come be with her. At first Mary refuses but in desperation she tries to call John and he is not at home. Monica walked into the room at that moment and hears everything. She is extremely upset to the point where she almost walks out and tells the nurse to get another doctor. Monica helps Mary deliver the baby and once she sees the baby is alright Monica leaves the house in a hurry.
Not long after finding out about Mary and John, Monica is offered a six week job in Vienna. She plans on staying permanently and write to John that she knows everything. Before she is to go, Mary takes John on vacation for two weeks as a way to say goodbye to him and to be happy the way they were when they were first married one more time.
After the vacation Monica checks on Mary and her baby. Mary feels so much guilt over how upset Monica is over the affair and the baby. Mary is an aviatrix. She leaves word that she is going back home to Ohio to see her family. She also leaves a note to Monica that the baby is hers to keep that she is going away. When Mary arrives at the airport she tells one of the crew that she is flying to Paris. The crew replies that her plane will not make.
On the day Monica was supposed to leave she hears about Mary and that the baby was left behind. Monica takes the baby home. Before she has a chance to tell John about adopting the baby she receives a call that Mary flew her plane out over the ocean and has not been heard from. When she shows John the baby he is very happy. He asks who the parents are and Monica replies she did not want to know so the baby could really be their own. Both parents are beaming as John holds the baby. Monica with a smile on her face says to John that the baby she has adopted is his.
Now that meaning when Monica says to John that the baby is his is very loaded. She means obviously that the baby is his real daughter and also means that this baby he does not know is his daughter that Monica has just adopted is now his own baby. I thought that was brilliant because she does not tell him the baby is actually his own flesh and blood but in a way she is telling him so. All I could think was good lord I hope that John never realizes the baby looks like him as she gets older and the truth gets out and the kid has a screwed up life!
The acting was alright. Kay Francis I have seen in a few films and she has yet to leave an impression on me. She seemed very phony to me in the film and I cannot figure out if it was Francis’s acting or if it was the character. I actually wish Warren William was in the film more. I am so used to seeing him a bad guy that it was a very nice change seeing him play a good guy… could John be considered a good guy? I would say he is. He was the one being kept in the dark and for crying out loud I am sure he did not mean to knock a girl up intentionally and leave her! Jean Muir as Mary was not good. She was a bit over the top for me.
Dr. Monica, as I mentioned, is a Pre-Code melodrama. Being a Pre-Code I had to see it and I am satisfied that I did. I had been interested in seeing this film for some time. I also wanted to see another Kay Francis film. Maybe one day I will see a film of hers and something will click with her. Dr. Monica is a hard film to find. Kay Francis was one of the stars featured in TCM’s Summer Under the Stars program and that is how I was able to view the film (took me long enough to finally sit down to watch it!). If TCM ever airs Dr. Monica again give it a try.