Coffee & Ginger: Kitty Foyle and Primrose Path

Friday, January 18, 2019

Hello my ginger snaps and welcome to the second edition of Coffee & Ginger. Today I am relaxing under my dog’s cozy Sherpa blanket sipping on a Krispy Kreme blend in an attempt to combat the withdrawal headache I have from not having any coffee this morning. Today’s topic is actually inspired by my last one. Rather than The Castles vs The Barkleys, today we are going to be discussing Kitty Foyle vs Primrose Path. My goal with these posts is to knock them out in one sitting, but this one took a couple of days just so I could find the time to refresh my knowledge on both films. Perhaps I should omit the term “versus,” as I do not mean to pit two marvelous films against each other, but rather I want to discuss a few notable story telling and character elements presented in both pictures and I am curious about what the preference is among you guys, or if you even have one or have ever thought about it. I have heard high praises for both, but I notice that often times people loop the two together in conversation. "I really enjoyed Ginger's dramatic role in Kitty Foyle, but I think she should have been nominated for Primrose Path," or, "Primrose Path is too censored, I enjoyed Kitty Foyle more."

Both of these films were released in 1940. They are uniquely similar regarding Ginger's body of work because each one represents a new stride she took in more dramatic pictures. Primrose Path marked Ginger's first venture into the genre after her partnership with Fred Astaire. Audiences were so used to seeing Ginger in a melodious atmosphere but most craved something deeper, and Ginger was itching to hang up her dancing shoes and prove that she could be just as great a dramatic actress as a musical one. Kitty Foyle, an adaptation of the Christopher Morley novel of the same name, followed right behind. However, Kitty Foyle sometimes has a tendency to overshadow Primrose Path, as it was Kitty Foyle that won Ginger her first and only Oscar for "Best Actress." I want to explore a bit and take a deeper look at the characters of Kitty and Ellie May and their stories and get an idea of what you guys think of them as well.

Ginger as Ellie May in Primrose Path

One of the main contrasting factors between the two characters is quite simple. The Ellie May story arc seems to be much more focused on an external conflict while Kitty is facing more of an internal conflict.  We witness Ellie May go from reserved tomboy to developing a yearning to be as beautiful as the other girls. We watch a battle play out in Kitty's mind in the form of flashbacks as she faces some traumatic events from her past that are resurfacing to try and decide her future.

Primrose Path takes us on a journey through the various life obstacles that young Ellie May Adams faces. She lives in a cramped little house on Primrose Path with her brassy grandmother, little sister, and alcoholic father, with a prostitute mother (although they only hint at her occupation in the film) who is usually away for certain periods of time. This may be a less than ideal environment, but Ellie cares deeply about her family, especially her father, who she admires for his wisdom. Her love for her Pa stands out among the connections she has already established and the ones she will soon establish with new characters. She did not go to school but considers the teachings from Pa a suitable substitute. His framed diploma is one of the first things that Ellie May shows her new husband Ed when he comes to meet the family. In Kitty's case, her father is her only immediate family member, and she takes care of him when he becomes very ill. Kitty's father was also a well read man with a passion for literature, similar to Pa. The bond between father and daughter in both movies are significant elements that help show us the nurturing side that both women have, and something that really stood out to me.

The inciting incident that comes in Ellie's story which makes her shift her focus dramatically comes when she meets gas station cafe employee Ed Wallace. Before she met Ed, she was tying her hair in braids to give the impression she was younger than she actually was so that "fellas" wouldn't get fresh with her. Now, pursuing Ed has become the most important thing to her. She does whatever she can to gain the attention of this gentleman even if it means lying to him and betraying his trust, or being someone she is not. A perfect example of this is when her mother offers her advice on how to walk properly, and Ellie May proceeds to showcase this in front of Ed at the Blue Bell nightclub. She watches carefully as Ed's friend Carmelita applies her lipstick, which Ellie attempts to replicate herself.

You would think that Ellie might be turned off by a forced kiss, but the exact opposite occurs. It actually triggers her to set her sights on Ed and gain his attention now that he has changed his attitude and become dismissive of her after he got what he wanted. She had only just met Ed when the kiss happened, so the spark is new for her. With Kitty, the spark had been reignited, but there was a similar immediate effect. Although she momentarily thinks better of it and asks him to leave, she can't help but flirt with the idea with being with old flame Wyn Strafford, who reappears in her apartment out of nowhere and proposes that she sail off to Buenos Aires with him. He uses his charm on Kitty and affectionately tells her that he needs her and he's always loved her as a sneaky way to manipulate her into agreeing to leave with him.

Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle (1940)

Ellie eventually gets married to Ed and abandons her family, telling him that they kicked her out when in reality she was the one who ran away. Her new life is now focused completely on Ed and her new job at the cafe. Where she once made fun of Ed's jokes, she has now learned the style herself and is presenting it to customers at the cafe as a way to put on an act so they will come back. She has more or less conformed to Ed's way of living, which seems to be the opposite of what Kitty has done. Kitty, a young white collar girl from Philadelphia, may have eagerly set her sights on dashing Wyn Strafford at the beginning of their story, but she does not let his wealthy family attempt to change her.  When they openly criticize her background and suggest she go to finishing school and imply that she is not ready to be part of a family of such high status, Kitty is taken aback and vehemently defends herself against them. This is a quality I appreciate greatly about Kitty and Ginger performs her passionate speech with incredible ability.

There is so much more to unpack with Primrose Path and Kitty Foyle than the few points I touched on in this post. Personally, while I usually tend to reside in camp Kitty because I always remember how proud Ginger was of that role and how special it was to her, I really don't have a strong preference. In fact, during my recent rewatches of both, I was actually leaning more towards Primrose Path. What about you? Did Ellie May need Ed to be the catalyst for her life to change around? Might she have ended up like her mother or her father? Where would Kitty be if she had chosen Wyn over the security of Mark? What would Ellie May have done if she was in Kitty's situation and vice versa? Let me know your thoughts over on my Twitter.

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