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Napoleon needs money to fight his wars in Europe so he wants 20 million dollars for the Louisiana Territory in the United States. To help the negotiations, he sends his brother, Jerome, to the U.S. on a goodwill tour. At a Maryland Horse Track, Jerome shows up without notice and soon wins an afternoon tour with Betsy. He falls for her, but she will have little to do with him. She is currently being courted by Henry, John and Harry. The next day, Jerome gets a job teaching Betsy French and they soon fall in love. The family dissuades this as they believe that he is but a tutor. When they meet again at a reception in Washington, Betsy consents to marriage, but Napoleon wants Jerome to marry into European Royalty and demands that Jerome do what is in the best interests of France. Written by
Tony Fontana <firstname.lastname@example.org>
HEARTS DIVIDED (Warner Brothers, 1936), directed by Frank Borzage, stars Marion Davies (with name above the title) in a costume related story reportedly based on the actual romance of Betsy Patterson and Jerome Bonaparte. Previously filmed by Warners during the silent era as GLORIOUS BETSY (1928) starring Dolores Costello and Conrad Nagel, this newer adaptation, with added score and some comedy, is actually better than anticipated.
Set during the early 1800s, Napoleon Bonaparte (Claude Rains) assigns his younger brother, Jerome (Dick Powell) to America as representative for the negotiation for the sale of the state of Louisiana for $20,000. Taking up residence at the Baltimore Inn, Jerome, on his resented "good will tour," comes to the horse races where he becomes enamored by the presence of Betsy Patterson (Marion Davies), a society girl. At first Betsy resents this young man until he croons to her, later assuming the role in the guise as her singing tutor. His identity is finally realized at a reception of the Patterson home where Jerome publicly proposes to Betsy, regardless of his telegram from Napoleon, now Emperor of France, ordering his return to marry Princess Catherine of Wurtemberg or face disgrace as a traitor.
Often categorized as a musical, songs for this production are limited to some degree. While HEARTS DIVIDED might have selected popular songs from the colonial era, an original score by Harry Warren and Al Dubin was used instead. New songs include: "My Kingdom for a Kiss" (sung in French by Dick Powell); "Nobody Knows the Trouble I Have Seen" (traditional Negro folk song performed briefly by The Hall Johnson Choir); "My Kingdon For a Kiss" (reprized in French and English by Powell); "Two Lovely Heart's Divided." and "My Kingdom For a Kiss." "My Kingdom for a Kiss," a nice tune, is underscored numerous times, used effectively during scenes involving Davies and Powell.
Although Marion Davies is far better suited for comedies than dramas, she makes a lovely presence in this costumer. It's seems unlikely, however, finding resident crooner Dick Powell in early American setting, even more unlikely having him playing a Frenchman. While he does sing a song entirely in French, Powell, along with Rains, make no attempt speaking with French accents. Overall, the Davies and Powell combination, which began with the hit and miss comedy of PAGE MISS GLORY (1935), would come to its conclusion with this historical account and based on fact love story.
Edward Everett Horton, Charles Ruggles and Arthur Treacher provide amusing moments with their comical support as members of the United States senate and would-be suitors of Glorious Betsy. Straightforward performances go to Henry Stephenson as Betsy's father; Clara Blandick as Betsy's spinster aunt; and Beulah Bondi with only one scene as Bonaparte's mother. Hobart Cavanaugh, Walter Kingsford, Etienne Girardot and Philip Hurlic can be seen in smaller roles.
Regardless of his British heritage, Claude Rains physically makes a fine Napoleon, a role enacted in more detail by Charles Boyer in CONQUEST (MGM, 1937), earning the born Frenchman an Academy Award nomination. No such honor for Rains here, but although his scenes are somewhat limited, he makes every moment count, especially later in the story where, in the manner of a mother coming between her son and future bride, asking Betsy, for the good of France, to give up his brother, but it is Davies as Betsy, under Borzage's sensitive direction, who nearly overcomes Rains performance in how she handles this situation.
Reportedly previewed at 88 minutes, circulating prints for available at 76 minutes, making one hope for the discovery of the missing footage. A rarely seen item from the era of Warner Brothers musicals or costume dramas, HEARTS DIVIDED can be seen periodically on Turner Classic Movies. (***)
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