Watching 1939: In Name Only (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  In Name Only (1939)

Release date:  Aug. 4, 1939

Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, Kay Francis, Charles Coburn, Helen Vinson, Katharine Alexander, Jonathan Hale, Nella Walker, Peggy Ann Garner, Maurice Moscovitch, Alan Bates, Spencer Charters, Grady Sutton (uncredited)

Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures

Director:  John Cromwell

Widowed mother and artist Julie Eden (Lombard) meets wealthy Alec Walker (Grant). As the two become friends and fall in love, Julie learns that he’s married to Maida (Francis), who Alec’s parents (Coburn, Walker) adore. Alec has long been unhappy with Maida, who he knows married him for his money, but Maida is unwilling to let him go.

1939 Notes:
• Cary Grant was in three films released in 1939.
• Carole Lombard was in two films released in 1939, and both were directed by John Cromwell. The other was “Made for Each Other.”
• Kay Francis was in three films released in 1939.
• Peggy Ann Garner’s first credited role. She was in two films released in 1939.
• One of two films John Cromwell directed in 1939, both starring Carole Lombard. The other was “Made for Each Other.”
• The only movie Helen Vinson was in that was released in 1939.

Carole Lombard and Peggy Ann Garner in “In Name Only”

Other trivia: 
• Carole Lombard recommended Kay Francis for the role of Maida, according to the book The Women of Warner Brothers by Daniel Bubbeo
• Working titles were Memory of Love, and The Kind Men Marry.
• Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was initially considered for the role of Alec Walker.
• Based on the novel Memory of Love by Bessie Breuer.
• Katharine Hepburn was originally considered for the role of Julie Eden.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
The year 1939 was career-changing for several actors.

Some performers starred in their first role, but for others, a great role gave them the career boost they needed. “In Name Only” was transformational for two of its leads.

In the early 1930s, Carole Lombard made a name for herself as a screwball comedian. But by 1939, she was growing tired of comedy and looking for a change, which she got with two films directed by John Cromwell. The first was “Made for Each Other,” playing a new wife dealing with marriage, a live in mother-in-law and having her first child.

The second was “In Name Only.” Lombard plays a widow who falls in love with a married man. Lombard plays against type in this film with a restrained and calm performance. She beautifully plays a woman in love, tortured that the man she loves isn’t free from his marriage. She meets opposition from a sister whose husband left her for another woman, but Lombard’s character knows she has to do what’s right for herself.

Kay Francis’ career also had a boost with “In Name Only.” In the early 1930s, Francis was one of Warner Bros.’s top stars, but by the mid-1930s, her status began to slip and the studio gave her subpar roles. Lombard urged for Francis to be cast as the cold, hard wife.

Though the role came late in her career, “In Name Only” offers Francis one of her best roles. In her earlier films, Francis usually played the long-suffering heroine, but here Maida is someone you love to hate. She’s unbelievably calculating, icy and hard. Everything she does is for No. 1, and she even turns her husband’s own family against him.

“When I played the heavy in ‘In Name Only,’ my friends told me I was crazy. I said I had to be seen in some other type of part than the mush I had been playing,” Francis is quoted in the book Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career by Lynn Kear and John Rossman.

For Cary Grant, he already was playing varied roles, but “In Name Only” was different from his two other films in 1939: Adventure pictures Only Angels Have Wings and Gunga Din.

Also, the film offers a small role for young child star, Peggy Ann Garner, in her first credited role.

The climax of the film is set at Christmas, and the ending of this film is simply delicious. I won’t say what happens, but I encourage you to watch and see for yourself.

“In Name Only” could be dismissed as a soap opera-like story, but it’s a fabulous film. It’s suspenseful as you wonder what will happen to its main characters and how will the devious Maida ever fall off her pedistal. Everyone in the cast gives knockout performances.

Cary Grant, Carole Lombard and Kay Francis in “In Name Only”

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at