Dr. Monica (1934) Review

Proof That It’s Pre-Code:

  • All revolves around an illicit affair and an unplanned pregnancy.
  • “I can see you’re not going to be much use to me this afternoon!” “Don’t count on it!” (They are discussing the act of sex.)
  • Philandering husband is forgiven in the end.

Danny LIKEAdmittedly, it was a struggle to come up with those “Proof That It’s Pre-Code” from above. This film has a lot of melodrama and some great performances, but there’s hardly anything here you aren’t just as likely to see come from a Douglas Sirk film of the 1950’s. This is a straight woman’s picture, full of tragic loss and sisterly understanding.

And, as terrible as it is to admit, most of the joy I derived from this film can be traced directly to schadenfreude.

Dr. Monica Braden, played in this film by the always sympathetic Kay Francis (of Trouble in Paradise and Girls About Town fame around these parts), is a completely angelic figure. You’ll find these a lot in melodramas of the mid-century and currently on the Lifetime Network. Monica has a fabulous career as a wealthy maternity doctor in New York City. Unfortunately, she’s also made the mistake of marrying the worst kind of lout: a writer.

Never worship a writer. They never look up from their work.

Played by Warren William, he’s a man of impeccable fickleness. He has an affair because that’s what writers seem to do, and picks probably the worst woman to do a dalliance with in Anna. She’s needy, obsessive, and apparently against using contraceptives.

Luckily, Warren is quickly removed from the situation as Dr. Monica generously sends him to Europe for six months to rekindle some of his bohemian spirit. She, in the meantime, means to do something about her unyielding desire to have a kid.

“I want a baby. I think I’m entitled to one after all the babies I’ve slapped the life into.”

Anna’s pregnancy comes to the forefront. Monica is really understanding and helps her throughout the pregnancy, up until it’s time to deliver the baby, and she accidentally hears Anna crying out her husband’s name. Whoops.

Francis does great with what’s given here, playing both a calm and cool doctor and a spurned women with intensity and warmth. I also like that she’s a doctor and in her office in the hospital she casually goes through about a pack of cigarettes in the course of one conversation, but I think that may be because I just love archaic little things like that.

She also delivers a hell of a glare if you’ve just had her husband’s lovechild.

The ending is fairly predictable, but still kind of surprising in the way that it relegates the woman to accepting her husbands infidelity without a word to him. Monica ends up raising the kid, and all of the loose ends tied up by goodwill and luck. You’d feel worse for her, but it’s obvious Monica wanted a child so badly that the fact that this one landed on her lap overrides all the feelings of hurt and anger that she’d been struggling with all along.

One of the things I always do with a picture like this is to try and imagine the genders reversed: if this were about a male doctor realizing his wife was unfaithful, would it also have ended with him pretending that the affair never happened, happy to raise the child as his own? I doubt they would have done that in Pre-Code Hollywood, and I highly doubt that they would do that now; I can’t think of the last time I’ve seen a movie where the man is made to play the fool, and at the end learns to accept it out of the kindness of his own heart. Not even in Eraserhead.

Regardless, Dr. Monica plays like a sick joke most of the time, a horror show for Monica as she goes from naive wife to eventually overcoming the fact that she and her husband are going to raise his lovechild without him even realizing it. As silly as that is, it’s the stuff of good melodrama, and the film never stops taking this stuff seriously. It’s goofy, but an honest kind of goofy that I always enjoy.

2 Replies to “Dr. Monica (1934) Review”

  1. As tame as this film ‘seems,’ it caused a great deal of anguish to those who were in charge of the soon-to-be-enforced code. There were totally “taboo” subjects, such as babies out of wedlock, suicide, and the scene where Dr. Monica tells her friend that she is going to give birth. Watch the scene closely. There is a sudden jerk in the film where something is obviously cut, then Dr. M. scolds her and tells her not to “talk that way or think that way again.” It was a request for an abortion, although not in so many words, and it was cut out on demand. (Sin in Soft Focus, by Mark Vieira, page 177). The code file on this film is loaded with complaints and the enforcers wanted it removed from circulation altogether.

    1. Yeah, I don’t know how that got by me, though I did read the Viera book well after this review. Francis’ two doctor movies are top notch, and they are certainly risque.

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