Kitty Foyle (Ginger Rogers), a saleswoman in a New York boutique working for Delphine Detaille (Odette Myrtil), faces a life-changing decision: marry doctor Mark Eisen (James Craig) or run away to South America with the man she has loved for many years, the already-married Wyn Strafford (Dennis Morgan). As she wrestles with her decision, the film flashes back to her youth in Philadelphia.
As a teenager, Kitty gawks at the city's elite "Main Liners" in a parade that precedes their annual Assembly Ball. Her father (Ernest Cossart) warns against getting carried away with her fantasies. Ironically, Kitty meets the embodiment of her dreams in an acquaintance of his: Wynnewood Strafford VI. Wyn offers her a secretarial job at his fledgling magazine. The two fall deeply in love, but when the magazine folds, he does not have the will to defy his social class's strictures by proposing to a woman so far below him socially.
With the death of her father and no prospect of marriage with Wyn, Kitty goes to work in New York for Delphine. One day, she presses the burglar alarm button by mistake at Delphine's fashion store. She pretends to faint to cover her blunder and is attended to by Mark. Mark, aware she is faking it, playfully blackmails her into a first date.
Wyn finally breaks down and finds Kitty in New York. The two wed, but agree that the only way their marriage can work is if they do not live in Philadelphia. When he introduces her to his family, she gets a chilly reception. She also learns that Wyn would be disinherited and left penniless if he does not remain in Philadelphia and work in the family banking business. She realizes, though Wyn is willing to try, he is not strong enough to deal with poverty. She walks out and they are divorced.
Kitty returns to New York, where she learns that she is pregnant. When Wyn arranges to meet her, her hopes for a reconciliation are raised, only to be dashed when she sees a newspaper announcement of Wyn's engagement to someone of his own social standing. She leaves without seeing him and receives a further blow when the baby dies at birth.
Several years later, Kitty reluctantly agrees to open a Philadelphia branch store for her friend Delphine. By chance, she waits on Wyn's wife and meets their son. She takes the opportunity to entrust the secret return of a family heirloom ring to the boy.
The film returns to the beginning. She decides to marry Mark.Ginger Rogers as Kitty Foyle
Dennis Morgan as Wynnewood 'Wyn' Strafford VI
James Craig as Dr. Mark Eisen
Eduardo Ciannelli as Giono (as Edward Ciannelli)
Ernest Cossart as Pop
Gladys Cooper as Mrs. Strafford
Odette Myrtil as Delphine Detaille
Mary Treen as Pat
K. T. Stevens as Molly (as Katharine Stevens)
Walter Kingsford as Mr. Kennett
Cecil Cunningham as Grandmother
Nella Walker as Aunt Jessica
Edward Fielding as Uncle Edgar
Kay Linaker as Wyn's Wife
Richard Nichols as Wyn's Boy
Katharine Hepburn, who starred opposite Rogers (but was frequently at odds with her) in Stage Door, was offered the title role, but turned it down.
The film was adapted by Dalton Trumbo and Donald Ogden Stewart from the 1939 novel Kitty Foyle by Christopher Morley. It was directed by Sam Wood.
Kitty Foyle was RKO's top film for 1940, earning a profit of $869,000.
Reviews from critics were generally positive. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times expressed disappointment that the story had been softened from the novel due to Production Code restrictions, but wrote of the protagonist that "Ginger Rogers plays her with as much forthright and appealing integrity as one can possibly expect." Variety magazine wrote, "Despite its episodic, and at times, vaguely defined motivation, picture on whole is a poignant and dramatic portraiture of a typical Cinderella girl's love story. Several good comedy sequences interline the footage, deftly written and directed. Ginger Rogers provides strong dramatic portrayal in the title role." Film Daily called it "one of the most human pictures that has been produced in Hollywood in many, many moons ... a triumph for Ginger Rogers." Harrison's Reports wrote, "Very good! ... The story is simple but realistic; it has deep human appeal, a stirring romance, and delightful comedy bits; moreover, the performances are excellent."
"I am inclined to think that it's Miss Ginger alone who makes 'Kitty Foyle' a better-than-average film and Kitty herself a proper model for those hundreds of thousands of young things who will now be adding a touch of white to their neckline," John Mosher wrote prophetically in The New Yorker. "Without Miss Ginger, it would be very easy to remember how often many of the scenes shown in this film have been seen before on the screen."
Kitty Foyle was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and the Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay. Ginger Rogers won for Best Actress. It was also nominated for Best Director (Sam Wood), Best Sound (John Aalberg).
In 1951, in a series of articles examining film adaptation, Lester Asheim notes that some films "reproduce the costume, housing, and appearance of the novel's prototypes without softening or heightening," but that Kitty Foyle shows the more typical "glamorizing" process of film adaptation:
Kitty Foyle is typical, in every aspect of the adaptation, of the daydream character of film characterization. The glamorizing process carries through from the casting of Ginger Rogers and the Hollywood wardrobe provided her, to such added incidents as Wyn renting an entire nightclub for a night.... While the film retains a scene or two of Kitty's crowded apartment shared with two other girls, such scenes are played for comedy and no attempt is made to convey the day-to-day monotony and routine of the working girl.
Rogers' dress became a popular style, taking the name of the film.
The film had a national re-release in 1955.
Kitty Foyle was adapted as a radio play on the May 5, 1941, episode of Lux Radio Theatre with Ginger Rogers reprising her role. Rogers also starred in the April 6, 1946, adaptation heard on Academy Award Theater. On March 3, 1947, it was produced for The Screen Guild Theater starring Olivia de Havilland.
Kitty Foyle was also a TV soap opera starring Kathleen Murray as Kitty Foyle.