The beautiful and frivolous wife of a plantation owner in antebellum Louisiana, proves unsatisfactory at running the household, leading her serious-minded husband to enlist the help of her unmarried sister.
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'The toy wife' or how to spoil your own life and the lives of others by being fickle and frivolous. This is the story of Gilberte, a beautiful sixteen-year-old girl who charms, attracts and seduces all the men she meets. Back in Louisiana after a stay in France, she will steal her fiancé from her loving and beloved sister Louise. Once married with George, she will prove a poor mother for little Georgie, a poor manager of the plantation and an unfaithful wife. She indeed starts an affair with André, the dashing young man she actually loves. Tragedy will ensue. Written by
The play "Frou-frou" by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy opened in Paris, France on 30 October 1869. Its English adaptation, "Frou Frou," by Augustin Daly, opened in New York on 15 February 1870. See more »
I rarely review these old movies, but in the case of THE TOY WIFE not only do I feel the film is underrated, but also misrepresented.
The basic plot concerns a successful lawyer (Melvyn Douglas) in 19th century Louisiana, who chooses to marry Frou Frou, the spirited and lively sister of more wholesome, reasonable Louise. Although Louise is in love with Douglas, she advises her sister to marry him. Their marriage starts off well, but soon Douglas resents his wife for not being an adequate homemaker, as Louise would have been (Frou Frou is 'too nice, and not strict enough with the slaves'). He soon has Louise coming to live with them and taking over the normal duties of his wife.
Frou Frou gradually realizes her place in the home is nothing more than as a 'Toy Wife,' someone for her husband to make love to while Louise takes her place in the home as mother. This causes her to look for true love elsewhere, and finding it in another suitor (Robert Young). This has disastrous repercussions for everyone involved.
It would be unfair to label Frou Frou a femme fatale. She is too kind, too loving, and much too wise. The true villain of the piece is Melvyn Douglas, who wants it both ways. He wants a reasonable, hardworking woman like Louise to take care of the house and Frou Frou to take care of the sex. At one point in the film, Louise confronts him and says so, and thus he is finally able to question the kind of husband he has been.
The acting in the film is variable. Douglas is good as the fickle husband, who only finds error in his wife instead of looking within himself. Rainer has moments of brilliance but her acting style is difficult to get used to, and is glaringly different from the more restrained performances from the other actors.
The production, however, is a first class star vehicle for Rainer, who was usually not given the attention two Oscars warranted. Overall, an interesting and, at times, moving melodrama with a central character who was basically good and should not be dismissed as a femme fatale.
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