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Hervey Allen's great blockbuster novel Anthony Adverse, a major seller
during the Depression Years provided both its leads, Fredric March and
Olivia DeHavilland with some choice roles in their respective careers.
The book turned out to be a one hit wonder for its author, but it
certainly allowed him to live comfortably. Something like that other
blockbuster novel Gone With the Wind did for its author which also gave
Olivia DeHavilland an even bigger role in her career.
Imagine if you will a Charles Dickens hero like Pip or David Copperfield born in very humble circumstances, but escaping to lead a life of high adventure away from the Dickensian settings of Victorian Great Britain and you've got Anthony Adverse. The supporting characters in the book and film could have also come from Dickens.
Young Anthony is the product of an affair between a young officer, Louis Hayward, and the wife of a Spanish diplomat, Anita Louise. Husband Claude Rains kills Hayward in a duel and when his wife dies in childbirth, leaves the infant at a convent. The nuns give him the name of Anthony Adverse as the boy arrives on St. Anthony's Day and is a child of adversity if there ever was one.
The grown up Anthony, played by Fredric March is apprenticed to his maternal grandfather Edmund Gwenn who does not know it as doesn't March at first. A sly and cunning housekeeper, Gale Sondergaard in her screen debut, puts the puzzle together, but she's got an agenda of her own which later meshes with the dissipated and dissolute Rains.
March also falls for young Olivia DeHavilland who is an aspiring opera singer who also wants some of the finer things in life. Though they marry and have a son, both take different paths on a quest for material security and comfort.
Anthony Adverse was a good follow up role for Olivia DeHavilland after Captain Blood. In both she's a crinolined heroine which she was destined to be cast as in her career at Warner Brothers. Still this part has a lot more to it than most of those she was doing at that time in her career.
March was 39 when he made Anthony Adverse, still he's a good enough player to gradually age into the part. The story does take place over a long period of years, right into the Napoleonic era from 1773 when Anthony is born.
Edmund Gwenn's character is pure Dickens, the Scot's merchant John Bonnyfeather (even the name) could easily have been Fezziwick from A Christmas Carol. Gale Sondergaard as the housekeeper could have been the bloodless Jane Murdstone combined with the vengeful Madame DeFarge.
Sondergaard won the first Best Supporting Actress Oscar given out for her performance. It set a pattern of villainous female roles which she played until she got blacklist troubles in the late Forties.
The novel was a lengthy one and Warner Brothers should have had something as long as Gone With the Wind in order to be really faithful to the book. Jack Warner didn't want to take a chance, but he did get a product that caught all the main points the author was trying to make.
Even today with it's magnificent Erich Wolfgang Korngold score which also won an Oscar and its photography by Tony Gaudio, also a winner Anthony Adverse holds up very well for today's audience. Fans of March and DeHavilland should love it as will others.
Fredric March, usually such a fine actor, was unable to give more than a wooden performance in the title role of 'Anthony Adverse'. Warner Bros. would have been better off using their up-and-coming new star, Errol Flynn, for this one--giving us the chance to see him paired once again with Olivia de Havilland. There are no sparks between March and de Havilland--he seems too old for the role despite clever make-up attempts to make him look suitable. But aside from the fact that he is miscast, there is a lot to admire about the film itself. For one thing, Claude Rains and Gale Sondergaard make the most memorable pair of villains ever seen in a 1930s movie. The sequence where they cause a coach and driver to go off a cliff is given an extra punch by their dialog. "He was my favorite coachman," says Rains dryly. "The coach was rather handy too," quips Sondergaard. Giving other outstanding performances are Edmund Gwenn, Louis Hayward, Anita Louise, Donald Woods and Akim Tamiroff. Some of the acting styles seem dated, as are the titles that connect the time span. The best-seller was a bulky 1,200 pages from which the scriptwriter trimmed the story down considerably, excluding whole segments of the book and still ending up with a film well over two hours. Strange how the celebrated novel is barely remembered today. The opera scenes with Olivia de Havilland are interesting. She was a radiant young beauty at the time but could have used a better technique in her lip sync to the lyrics. Interesting historical drama of the Napoleonic era with Rains and Sondergaard giving the best performances. I've written articles on both of them for CLASSIC IMAGES, inspired by their performances in this film.
Today both Hervey Allen and his novel, Anthony Adverse, are all but forgotten, as is the 1936 Mervyn Leroy adaptation. Allen has never been granted a biography or a critical study( one could also say the same thing about Mervyn Leroy) while both the novel and the film are dismissed as over blown, prolix "white elephants". This is not entirely fair. Allens 1200 page colossus was the greatest best seller of its day, and was only surpassed when Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With The Wind, while Leroys film isn't bad. In fact it is pretty good, in its own way. First of all, Leroy managed to condense Allens erudite, baroque epic into the space of a two -hour, black and white film. In doing so, he managed to retain most of the novels elaborate religious symbolism( Allen seems to have been either a Lapsed, but still affectionate Catholic or an Episcopalian of the "high church " variety with a fascination with Priests, The Virgin Mary, and Crucifixion symbols), all of the colorful characters( Allen seems to have ransacked Tolstoy, Dickens, Dumas, and Balzac for ideas.), and most of the action.( the carriage chase in the Alps is one of the great "scenes" of thirties cinema). The film has also retained the novels plot, or most of it. One would not know, for example, that the hero ends up dying rather UNheroically in Texas sometime in the early eighteen twenties, or that the book has a truly bizarre, ambiguous epilogue in which "white trash" settlers of Texas from Missouri stumble across the statuette of the virgin and the ruins of Adverses estate.The great problem with the book -and with the film- is that Anthony Adverse is NOT a heroic figure. He is played upon, not player, a passive, frequently humiliated victim of adversity. Clearly, Allen wanted to make him a philosophical hero, not a swashbuckler. He is a clerk, for heavens sake. Most of the time, he is engaged in capitalist transactions of some sort, instead of sword-play. ( indeed, the only sword- play in the movie is between the villainous Don Luis and Anthony's father.)The basic action is simple. One Priest gives Anthony a mind,by teaching him. Another gives him a soul, by reminding him that slavery is a sin( Incidentally, the film is a powerful indictment of slavery and racism). Finally, Olivia De Havillands character gives him a heart, by introducing him to the son he never knew he had. March-a very fine actor at his best- seems curiously flat and passive in the role of Adverse. The truly great performances are by Claude Rains and Gale Sondergaard as the over the top super-villains. Rains exhudes decadence, arrogance and sadism, while Sondergaard won the first best supporting actress Oscar, simply by grinning satanically for two hours.
I have not read the largely forgotten book on which this movie is
My favorite films are from the early 30's to the mid 40's. The cast in this film is stellar, including some of my favorite leads and supporting actors. I love costume dramas and adventures set in exotic places. However, with all of those factors to prejudice me in favor of Anthony Adverse, I was hugely disappointed.
The plot seems okay. The sets and costumes are excellent. The cast, as I already mentioned, is stellar (in the credits!). The score seems appropriate. The expensive production shows throughout. The reason this film is so unsatisfying is rather puzzling. I think it may be one of those times everybody from the director on down was simply going through the motions. Hard to believe, given the cast. But they all seem so - not just two-dimensional, but - lifeless. Perhaps, as one other reviewer suggests, this film would have been better if de Havilland had been teamed with Errol Flynn instead of Frederic March. I don't remember seeing Flynn ever give a less than energetic performance.
Frederic March, one of America's greats, fails to create a character that I could like, sympathize with or root for with any enthusiasm. In fact enthusiasm is what he seems to lack in this role. Olivia de Havilland is somewhat better, but this is one of her least impressive performances. Gale Sondergaard did very little to receive an academy award. The appearances of Louis Heyward and Anita Louise are entirely too short. I like both, and I would have liked more of them and less of March and de Havilland. Perhaps they should have reversed roles...
Edmund Gwenn delivers a typically endearing performance in a typical Edmund Gwenn role. Henry O'Neill is usually very interesting, because he plays both sides of the fence - both good and bad guys. Here, his father Xavier is far more enjoyable than Pedro De Cordoba's Father Francoise.
The only bright spot in this under-achieving ensemble is Claude Rains. He, too, plays both good and bad guys. Here he is an aristocratic charmer and schemer - despicable and deceitful. He is great! In the scene where he laughs demonically, he sends a chill up my spine. Thank you, Mr. Rains, for delivering a great, under-appreciated performance, in an otherwise deservedly forgotten film.
At film's end, I felt like I had read a 1200 page novel - and simultaneously like I had no interest in reading THIS one.
Fredric March stars as the title character, an orphan boy discarded due to his illegitimacy, who overcomes much adversity throughout his life. He is raised in a convent and adopted by a wealthy merchant, Edmund Gwenn, at the age of ten. He learns the business, but is shipped to Havana around the time of the French Revolution. Before he departs, it is learned that he has married the daughter of a servant, Olivia DeHavilland. He is thought lost at sea by all, but is actually in Africa running a slave trade, with his heart blackening the whole time. From there, the tale takes many twists as Anthony must find goodness in his heart again, and DeHavilland may be the key. The drama is a bit heavy-handed and some overacting is present. Claude Rains and Gale Sondergaard make great antagonists, and Sondergaard won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance.
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.
Anthony Adverse was nominated for best picture of 1936! This is really
hard to believe. What's even more difficult to fathom is that Gale
Sondergaard was voted best supporting actress for her portrayal of
Faith Paleologus, a vicious, cunning, sinister woman. This was
Sondergaard's first film and she would begin her long career playing
such evil parts.
The movie started out interesting enough as Claude Rains killed Louis Hayward, (Denis) the lover of Maria ( a beautiful Anita Louise.) Rains, a Spanish diplomat, was married to Maria. Hayward and Maria conceived their child only for Maria to die in childbirth.
Maria's father, Mr. Bonnyfeather, was admirably played by Edmund Gwenn. When I read the book, I knew that the part of Bonnyfeather would be played by Gwenn. He was perfect for the part.
Rains conveniently drops off the baby to a convent. The child grows up to be played by Fredric March and he becomes an apprentice to Bonnyfeather, not realizing that this is his grandfather. Faith is the housekeeper to Bonnyfeather who shall inherit his money providing that Anthony is out of the way.
The picture becomes uneven and even starts to drag when Anthony is sent to Africa to recover his grandfather's fortune. It is there that he is drawn into the slave trade.
The ending of the film is a real downer. It just goes to show you that unhappiness seems to be inherited as well.
The main pleasure this film gives me is the music in it by Erich Korngold, and especially the African scene around the dying of the Priest. He used the same theme in his only Symphony and in other works to. The film's main story was a wonderful vehicle for Korngold's creating genius to have full reign in the emotion department. Long may romantic music be heard if the nasty music critics will allow it. They are very guilty of suppressing some of the most beautiful music to be written or heard in this life. Example, Eugene D'Albert's magnificent Opera "Tiefland" do we ever hear it on any classical music programme? No ! I rest my case. The film is very enjoyable and all the cast were superb, but Oh how they compressed the story, the book I believe is very long and attempting to Hollywood it didn't really do the book justice. However it remains one of my favourites. Is there anyone else out there who loves Korngold's music, if so, please get in touch with me. here is my E mail address firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you. R. Loach
I really appreciate Joseph Harder's review--as I have never read the
original book nor do I think it likely I ever will. His insights are
helpful in giving background for this film.
ANTHONY ADVERSE is a film that is probably better quality-wise than the 6 I scored the film. For a 1930s epic, it is obvious that the studio spared few expenses and tried very hard to create a sweeping saga. The problem, though, is that despite all the efforts of those involved, this is exactly the sort of costume drama that I dislike. Now this is my personal taste, but I also feel that most modern viewers will also be a bit put off by the style of film. In essence, this film would have played much better back in 1936 than it would today.
The film is the life story of Anthony Adverse--a boy orphaned shortly after birth. How all this came to be as well as his life leading to his eventual move to America is shown in the film. At first Anthony is a likable sort and you care about him--he really got screwed when it came to his childhood. However, later in the film he unexpectedly became a major jerk--devoting many years to the slave trade as well as practically abandoning his new bride! Because of this, no matter how Adverse eventually turns his life around, you can't help but either hate him or at best feel indifference. As a result, it's a very hard sell for everyone involved in the film and it's hard for audiences today to care about the man.
As for the technical merits, the film is directed well, has many lovely performances (including Olivia DeHavilland at her most radiant) and has a fitting musical score. While the film was not made in color, practically none of the films of the day were, so this can be forgiven. It's too bad that the film is a bit dull and the character so unlikable--because of this, some may feel that devoting almost two and a half hours to this film just isn't worth it. Overall, I see it as a well made time-passer and that's about it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This jumbo story of a man's ups and downs in Napoleonic Europe -- and
Cuba and Africa -- appeared as a novel in the depths of the Great
Depression, when people must have had a lot of time to read. I doubt
that it's much read today because its appeal is for such a limited
audience. The film adapted from it is more than two hours long and
It was directed by a seasoned pro but you wouldn't know it. The casting and editing are clumsy, and everyone except Anthony Adverse (Frederick March) overacts. You expect a bit of ham from performers like J. Carrol Naish but not from the delicate and beautiful Olivia De Havilland. (Wardrobe has at least given her some daring necklines, which didn't happen often.) The plot? An illegitimate boy starts out with nothing, grows up, gains power and wealth, realizes it doesn't mean much, and takes off with his son to start a new life in a New World.
Casting got the two leads right. March and De Havilland look right for their parts. But the rest of the cast -- well. As is usual in these epics, there are good people and bad people. Aside from a few harmless comics. You know how you can tell the good from the bad here? The good look good; the bad look ugly. Take the greedy housekeeper in the millionaire's estate, Gail Sondergaard. Her every smile is an evil sneer. Those teeth could gnaw their way through an anchor chain in no time. She does her best to cheat March out of his inheritance and, failing that, she marries a Spanish Count by means of extortion.
A bonus point for the score. When you get tired of watching Frederick March wrestling with his conscience, or the supporting players conniving to screw up his life, you can listen to Eric Wolfgang Korngold's magnificent music.
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