Secrets of an Actress, directed by William Keighley, is a very lightweight 1938 Kay Francis romance, but within the limitations of its very modest ambitions it works quite well.
Kay Francis is Fay Carter, an actress still waiting for her big break. The daughter of a famous actor, she has achieved modest success but is growing tired of the grueling life on the road of a touring actress. She wants to stay put in New York, which means she has to make it on Broadway. She believes she’s about to land the part that will bring her what she wants but at the last minute she misses out.
Then fate intervenes - her friend Marian (Isabel Jeans) throws a punch in a bar. The punch leaves prominent architect Peter Snowden (Ian Hunter) with a black eye, but it serves to bring Fay and Peter together. Peter has always been slightly stage-struck and meeting Fay re-awakens his thirst for a life in the theatre. He has little acting talent, but he does have money. Besotted by both Fay and the theatre he cooks up a scheme to become a Broadway producer with the intention of launching Fay to stardom. His friend and business partner Richard Orr (George Brent) assures him he’s crazy and will lose his money but the play is a smash hit.
But of course there are complications. Fay is very fond of Peter but she’s fallen head over heels in love with Richard. And Richard has a wife. He’s been trying for years, without success, to persuade his wife to divorce him. Will true love triumph in the end? Since this is Hollywood there are no prizes for guessing the answer to that question.
Secrets of an Actress is one of those curious movies that expresses Hollywood’s strange inferiority complex in regard to the theatre. The characters in the film all express disdain for the movies and operate on the assumption that only stage acting is real acting. And yet of course this is a movie.
This is a movie that relies a good deal on the charm of the actors to keep us interested in spite of the flimsiness of the plot. Kay Francis often found herself in this position and she was usually equal to the task. She’s quite delightful in this film. As always she looks wonderfully glamorous - this was a woman who certainly knew how to wear clothes and her look perfectly encapsulates the style of the 1930s. My main concern was the casting of George Brent, an actor I generally dislike, but he’s extremely likeable in this one.
A little bit of Isabel Jeans as Marian goes a long way but she manages to just avoid being annoying. Ian Hunter does fairly well in the thankless role of the guy who is obviously not going to get the girl.
At just 70 minutes there’s little chance of boredom and overall this is a competent and enjoyable movie for those who are content to approach it without excessively high expectations.