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In late 18th century Italy, a beautiful young woman finds herself married to a rich but cruel older man. However, she is in love with another, younger man. When the husband finds out, he kills the lover in a swordfight, and takes his wife on a long trip throughout Europe. Months later, she dies giving birth to a son. The husband leaves the child at a convent, where he is raised until the age of 10; then he is apprenticed to a local merchant, who gives him the name "Anthony Adverse" because of the adversity in his life. But his adversity has only begun, as fate takes him to Cuba, Africa, and Paris. Written by
John Oswalt <email@example.com>
Frederic March is "Anthony Adverse" in this 1936 film that also stars Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains, Anita Louise Gail Sondergaard, Donald Woods, Edmund Gwenn and Louis Hayward. Anita Louise and Hayward both have small roles as illicit lovers in the beginning of the film - she's married to Marquis de Luis (Claude Rains) and dies giving birth to a son by Denis (Hayward). The evil marquis drops the baby off at a convent, where he lives until he is 10 years old. Then he is adopted by a merchant, Mr. Bonnyfeather (Gwenn), who happens to be his grandfather. Bonnyfeather sees his daughter in the boy's (Billy Mauch) angelic face. This beautiful little boy grows up to be a blond Frederic March, who has been given the name Anthony Adverse. He's in love with Angela (de Havilland), an aspiring opera singer, but goes to Africa to recover his grandfather's fortune rather than stay with her. There he becomes involved in slave trading. When he returns, things have changed for Angela - and for him.
The film is based on a best-selling book, and I have to agree that both the film and the book seem forgotten today, as is the director, Mervyn Leroy. March is wrong for the role - he doesn't convey enough charisma, for one thing - certainly Brian Aherne or Errol Flynn would have been much more compelling. March was a wonderful actor but he needed a strong director to get him away from being "stagy," and this type of role was never his métier anyway. The gorgeous ingénue de Havilland gives a lovely performance, but the standouts are the villains - Sondergaard, as Bonnyfeather's housekeeper and Claude Rains as the marquis.
TCM gives this movie very high stars, probably based on the fact that it won four Oscars (one for Sondergaard who doesn't do much but look snide) and that it was nominated for Best Picture in 1936. The pickings must have been slim. This is a good film, with an exciting carriage chase in the mountains and some brutal scenes of slave trading, but it's hard to keep interested in it. Adverse isn't terribly likable, for one thing. It's the story of a man and how he is molded into a human being by two priests and a woman. It's a lofty idea that doesn't quite make it onto the screen.
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