You can read my more general article about Dr. Monica on Immortal Ephemera, here. What follows on this page concentrates solely upon Warren William as John Braden.
Dr. Monica – What
You would think Warren William was made for this. Not only does his Dr. Monica character cheat on his wife, but the pretty young thing he’s playing around with winds up pregnant. Oh, our Warren had seduced plenty of attractive young women on screen prior to Dr. Monica but this sounds too dastardly for even him.
However, someone missed the bit about Warren excelling at heels and scoundrels and our man winds up barely having a role in this thing from the waist up.
Maybe it’s the clean upper lip. Warren appeared in Cleopatra directly after Dr. Monica, even had to come back to Warner Brothers for some Dr. Monica retakes in between, so he is clean shaven. Does the ‘stache claim Samson-like powers? Was Warren’s vitality so drained by those few swipes of the razor? I half expected another actor to come shove him aside and claim that he in fact did this to Miss Muir.
Warren should be a lech here. Somehow he doesn’t seem so bad. He quickly drops Muir’s Mary to return to his wife, Kay Francis as Monica, but his John is so otherwise well behaved that you’d expect him to find a way to make things right if he ever came to know of in what condition he’d left Mary. He takes a trip to distance himself from the situation and returns more in love than ever with his wife whom he presents an expensive wristwatch as a token of love.
Dr. Monica never even bothers to dwell on the idea that John has made a mistake with Mary. It’s about Mary’s mistake in relation to her close friend Monica, John’s wife. Warren is so well composed that you know it was nothing more than an error in judgment on his part. No, it wasn’t a one-time thing, but when it went too far John, acting very civilized, nipped it in the bud.
Or so he thought and so he’ll think forever and all time. Warren’s John spends most of Dr. Monica blissfully ignorant. Ignorant of Mary’s pregnancy; Ignorant of his wife’s intentions to leave him; eventually even seeming ignorant of where babies come from as Dr. Monica comes to its inevitable conclusion.
By the way, the women of Dr. Monica are each fantastic in a movie that was adapted from a play that did not include any men.
I’ve been hard on Jean Muir before, but I think she’s at her best here. Verree Teasdale, who played Warren’s secretary in Employees’ Entrance, is mostly hilarious but also takes part in one of the film’s best dramatic scenes. Kay Francis does her usual thing, which I am a fan of.
Again, a more complete look at the film can be found on Immortal Ephemera here.
Dr. Monica – Why?
Warren’s powers were not sapped by the code in this one. Dr. Monica, with it’s cheating husband, illegitimate pregnancy, and even suggestion of abortion, is without a doubt a pre-code movie even if no one told you the exact release date. No, Warren’s bare upper lip is more to blame than any imposition of the censors.
While his love ’em and leave ’em seducers of Employees’ Entrance and Skyscraper Souls were already well behind him, Warren had just carried on a much more colorful affair with Ginger Rogers in Upperworld. Despite the general upstanding nature of his Alex Stream, he could still play a good dog. Or at least Big Bad Wolf.
Following Upperworld Warren’s character pretty much spends all of Smarty in an abusive sex romp with on-screen wife Joan Blondell. While Tony “Diced Carrots” Wallace of that film doesn’t put over Warren in a flattering light, he could have used even a whiff of that aggression in Dr. Monica, which almost seems like penance for this earlier films.
Our friend John Stangeland, Warren’s biographer, puts a good deal of blame on Dr. Monica for sabotaging the career that Warren had been enjoying. John writes that Warren’s willingness to accept any ole part like Dr. Monica and that previous effort Smarty, “signaled to the studio and the public that he was not a star of the first rank.”
I don’t disagree. These were poor roles for Warren.
Though at the same time he did have Cleopatra and Imitation of Life pending. No, not the traditional parts we celebrate Warren William for today. But I’d imagine damn satisfying for him as an actor in 1934, regardless of his taking a distant backseat to Claudette Colbert in each.
Also coming soon were The Dragon Murder Case and The Case of the Howling Dog, roles in the crime-mystery genre which would come to define Warren’s later career. He’s still got some strong Warner Brothers roles left for him whenever he plays Perry Mason, which he’ll do four times including Howling Dog.
The problem going forward is almost anything in between those Perry Mason titles. Other than Don’t Bet on Blondes it’s a pretty weak lot.
Gossip and Speculation
Thanks to the Media History Digital Project I went in to take a look through the old period film magazines to see if there was anything interesting about Dr. Monica. While the first volume for each The Film Daily and Motion Picture Daily were missing for 1934 it was present for the Hollywood Reporter so the following all leans heavily upon that publication.
The January 25, 1934 edition–and all dates following will also be 1934–mentions Paramount putting in a bid to Warner Brothers for the loan of Warren William to play Caesar in their upcoming Cleopatra. Yes, we know this came to pass but the reason given is interesting: “There is a possibility that the loan can be made as Warners have no immediate assignment for the player.”
On January 25 it is stated that Warners’ has assigned Warren to a top spot in The Key. This is intriguing in that The Key was originally a William Powell-Kay Francis project. It’s also a bit of an odd note as Powell is still included in the cast and you would expect a film to star either Powell or Warren William, not both. But as the Reporter subsequently announced that Warren’s part had been given to Colin Clive I suppose they had in fact intended to team them.
Interesting that Warner Brothers attempted to put Warren on a Kay Francis project. Or what was at the time a Kay Francis project. Read on.
In their February 8 Hollywood Reporter it was announced that Warren had been taken off of The Key and is set for the starring role in something called Mona Lisa, based on an original adaptation by Carl Erickson. Erickson was the writer on Smarty for Warren, but I doubt that was Mona Lisa (though it is possible). No film was made with that exact title though and Mona Lisa ceases to be mentioned.
I’m having a hard time not reading something into this: That previous note taking Warren off of The Key was published February 8. One day later in the February 9 issue they report that “Kay Francis has refused to do The Key for Warners and the organization has permitted her to step out.” She was offered her choice of two scripts and opted for, you guessed it: Dr. Monica.
On February 17 it was reported that Jean Muir had been assigned to Dr. Monica and that Joel McCrea was no longer under consideration for the male lead. A few days later, February 22, “newly arrived contract player” John Eldredge is up for the former McCrea part. On February 24 there’s another mention of Eldredge in connection with Dr. Monica before it’s announced two days later, February 26, that Warren William has the Dr. Monica part and Eldredge will instead appear in the latest Edward G. Robinson film.
So in less than three weeks Warren and Kay were co-starring in The Key, both off of the same film within a day of one another and then reconnected for Dr. Monica.
I’m not suggesting anything beyond the idea that either Warner Brothers was hot to pair Warren William and Kay Francis in a film. If so they goofed. Or that Warren and Kay wanted to appear with each other in a film. If so, Warren goofed. Twice (Living on Velvet).
I’ll add a touch more fuel to the speculative fire with this bit from the March 1934 edition of the popular fan magazine Photoplay.
In an article about Wonder Bar, which Kay Francis appeared in and Al Jolson lorded over, came mention of a few other unfortunate co-stars before adding: “They were not all as nimble in dodging the call as was Warren William, who, upon being informed that he was nominated for one of the parts, merely raised his eyebrows–and took a little trip to New York. There was nothing Warren would rather do than play Kay’s husband, but–er–not in Wonder Bar.”
Also of Interest
Unrelated to Dr. Monica but still of interest to this site came the April 7, 1934 report that George Brent was cast in Housewife opposite Bette Davis. Apparently this took him out of consideration for Philo Vance in The Dragon Murder Case. “This decision puts it up to Warren William to take” the role.
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