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I have watched television over the last forty years and this is one of the few black and white movies that I missed. It was great to see one of the greats again. This movie invokes a wide set of emotions that doesn't require explicit sex, explosions or fast plots. The photography is outstanding and every close up is a prefect portrait of expression and lighting. Luise Rainer gives an incredible performance. After reading her biography, I understand that she is known for her emotional dramatic acting and hand postures, but in this film, I don't see how any one could have pretended to be as beautiful and flighty. The character was "almost" mentally ill, that is nearly detached from reality. Flighty and beautiful...a prefect performance. I'd have to say that she stole the show. *S* Thank you Luise.
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.
This is a seldom seen film. We caught it on TCM, the best source for
some of the best classic films of all times. The main attraction in
watching this 1938 movie was a curiosity for watching Luise Ranier at
the height of her Hollywood days.
As directed by Richard Thorpe, the film has its merits. This movie, based on a play, seems artificial, but that was the taste of those days and it will not disappoint, although it is a typical melodrama. The art direction of Cedric Gibbons is evident in the lush interiors of the elegant New Orleans mansions and the antebellum plantation owned by the Vallaire family.
This is a story about two sisters who loved each other dearly, but their relationship suffers a blow as George Sartoris will ask the flighty Gilberte "Frou Frou" Brigard to marry him instead of the woman who really loved him, her sister Louise. Frou Frou, a frivolous girl, only wanted the glamor of the social life in New Orleans. She liked George, but she never felt anything for her husband. Dashing Andre Vallaire awakens a fatal passion in her. In fact, that is her downfall and she lives to pay for her indiscretion.
Luise Ranier plays the young girl well. Her acting reminded us of another star of the day, Greta Garbo, although Ms. Ranier was not a product of the silent era. Both believed in the large gestures as a way to emphasize the lines they were reciting and both played to the camera in similar fashion. In fact, she sticks out from the rest of the cast, which obviously had another approach to acting.
The dashing Melvyn Douglas was good as George. Barbara O'Neil is perfect as the Louise, the noble sister that gives up her own happiness to make George happy. Robert Young cuts quite a figure as the handsome Andre. Alma Kruger, H.B. Warner, are seen in minor roles.
The film is a curiosity, and it should be seen as such because it probably will resonate with admirers of the classic films of that era.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The toy wife is a beautiful story very similar to David O. Selznicks Gone with the Wind. It is the story of a young girl, Frou-Frou, falling instantly in love with a rich, and powerful man named Andre. Frou-Frou who has lived in France her whole life is instantly the talk of New Orleans who wins over everyone, man or woman. Andre becomes enraptured with the lovely and adventurous Frou-Frou, but is too late. George, an older, more mature gentleman has come along and also won over the fickle girl. At first she doesn't seem to desire to marry him at all. She remembers Andre and wants only to be with him, but when her older and wiser sister Louise tells her to marry the better choice of George, Frou-Frou cannot deny her sister. Little does Frou-Frou know that her plainer, but more sensible sister Louise is madly in love with George, but doesn't want to disrupt her sisters chances of being happy. George and Frou-Frou marry and Andre and Louise are left in the dust. Frou-Frou comes to love George with incredible passion and they birth a boy named Georgie. But George feels that his marriage to Frou-Frou will crash and burn if Louise doesn't step in and help her learn how to be a proper wife. From this moment on the story only spirals into the dramatic ways of movies from the 1930's. Frou-Frou thinks that George loves Louise, and runs away with Andre to keep from hurting her husband and sister. When they return George challenges Andre to a duel, and then shoots and kills the poor loveless Andre. Frou-Frou becomes deathly ill and goes to a church to pray for a miracle. The miracle is answered when Louise comes across her sister after all the time that is passed and persuades the stubborn George to go to his dying wife. The movie is a beautiful tribute to the late 1800's and is filmed even more beautifully. The actors are magnificent and melo-dramatic in their art. It is one of the most beautiful films from this time that I have seen and I advise anyone with the chance of seeing this lovely film to do so.
Like her contemporaries, Garbo and Dietrich, the Vienesse Luise Rainer had both beauty and talent and yet, despite winning two consecutive Best Actress Oscars, failed to achieve the same level of cinematic greatness. Dissatisfied with the way MGM was handling her career, she fled Hollywood in the late 30s and, sadly, audiences today barely know of her work. Here, she had one of her better film roles as Frou-Frou, the flighty Southern Belle, indulged by a wealthy father and doting older sister and, consequently, aware of nothing but her own needs and desires. When she catches the eye of a staid lawyer (humorless Melvyn Douglas), who is charmed by her youthful joy and gaiety, she consents to marriage at the urging of the sister, who is hopeful Frou-Frou will somehow be forced to grow up, and in spite of the sister's own love for the lawyer. When the marriage fails to produce the desired outcome, and sensing the loss of her husband's affection, Frou-Frou drifts into an affair with a wealthy roué, with tragic results. Rainer gives a very fine performance as the innocently destructive Frou-Frou and is an absolutely enchanting presence on screen. With Barbara O'Neil as the more serious-minded older sister, Robert Young, bland as always as Frou-Frou's lover, and H.B. Warner, Alma Kruger and the very pretty black actress Theresa Harris (in a truly offensive role as Frou-Frou's maid. You'd have to see her in something like Miracle On 34th Street to appreciate how very different, and dignified, she really was).
Based on a French play from the nineteenth century (1869) ,"Frou Frou"
is virtually forgotten in its native country .Only a waltz which has
little (or nothing ) to do with the character is still played for
Thé-Dansant for old generations .To my knowledge ,no other movie (even
French) or MTV work has been done since Richard Thorpe's .
Thorpe partially succeeding in giving a French aristocratic touch to the film.There are some lines in that language ,and the classic old folk tune "Au Clair De La Lune" is heard again and again and again ,a good choice,for it is primarily a children's song and the heroine (check the title) has never grown up whereas her sister was born an adult.You cannot blame Frou Frou for what she's done because she is in a world she does not understand;Whatever she does, she is out of steps with what the others do :her sister (why shouldn't be jealous of her?) , her son (Isn't she a good mother?) , her husband (isn't she a good wife at least in her mind?) and even her lover (isn't it only a stopgap solution?)
Sainte Catherine is the heroine's model.This character has been part of the French culture for a long time and plays a prominent part in Frou Frou's life :she often says a prayer to her and when everything turns to gray ,her last resort is to go and implore her idol.The Catherinettes were girls of 25 still unmarried by the Feast of Sainte Catherine (25th November);the tradition is slowly fading nowadays.
"The toy woman" (which was retitled "Frou Frou " in the French version,although the American title is much more relevant) is a good melodrama which would deserve a better rating than the mediocre 5,8 it's got at my time of writing
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Two Oscars in a row wasn't a curse for the legendary Luise Rainer, but
a few missteps in her post-Oscar career did do her in as far as film
was concerned. The most blatantly obvious is this pre-Civil War
Southern drama that points out that not every actress was capable of
pulling off the impossible. While Rainer does escape having egg on her
face here, at times her performance is overly bombastic and even
Rainer is Frou-Frou, a Louisiana Plantation born aristocrat brought up in post-Revolutionary War France, returning as an adult (or child/woman), causing chaos in her wake. She seems to be a gay, vibrant young lady, but it is obvious that she is an immature, selfish girl trapped inside a woman's body. When the man (Melvyn Douglas) her American raised sister (Barbara O'Neill) loves proposes to her, mistakenly finding her fascinating, she accepts immediately, jilting another lover (Robert Young) and settling in as mistress of his plantation and mother of his son.
As time goes by, it is obvious that she is too incapable of taking charge of the estate and raising her son properly, so Douglas brings O'Neill in to help her. Jealousy arises, tossing Rainer and Young back together, and in typical Southern legend fashion, leading to a tragic conclusion.
Certainly lavish in the typical MGM fashion, this is fascinating to watch for both its flamboyance and its failures. Rainer at times makes her character seem to be a full adult (true in the case of people like her who suffer from Arrested Development), but she's playing a mostly unsympathetic character who can't help who she is. Douglas and Young suffer in being overshadowed by Rainer's blatant miscasting, while O'Neill is perhaps far too noble-Olivia de Havilland to Rainer's Bette Davis, or perhaps Bette Davis to Rainer's Miriam Hopkins.
It should be observed that the impression this film gives towards the slave characters is perhaps its greatest flaw. Every black character, while not a stereotypical "singing, dancing darkie", seems content in the role of being a slave. Rainer's servant (played by Theresa Harris) is a no-named black girl nick-named "Pick" (short for pickaninny of course!) who causes a ton of trouble with gossip against O'Neill towards her mistress. The white characters are shown to treat them usually kindly, but when the slaves misbehave, all of a sudden threatening to whip them or sell them off. If you see the film from this angle, you might re- consider the way the O'Haras were presented in dealing with their own slaves (and how loyal those slaves were to them) in "Gone With the Wind" and how other slave owners were depicted in the classic Hollywood films.
Of the supporting cast, Alma Kruger stands out as Young's regal mother, proud but horrified over the scandal. Zoe Atkins, the famed playwright, provided an interesting but probably doomed screenplay, directed by Richard Thorpe with much style but lacking in substance. Certainly watchable and fascinating, you won't get through it without shaking your head and wonder what was in the creator's minds to make them think that this could work. Rainer here truly reminds me of some interesting failures that Meryl Streep made during her heavily accented acting period.
This film is a period piece set in Louisiana before the Civil War. In
this Hollywood version of the Old South, the rich plantation owners are
good to their slaves and the slaves are happy people! I can't even
repeat (due to IMDb standards) some of the ways these human beings are
referred to in the film and I can't see this film earning a perfect 10
simply because of its whitewashing of slavery.
The story is about a very shallow, child-like and destructive woman nicknamed "Frou Frou" (Luise Rainer). She bounces about like a happy bunny--captivating men in the process. Yet, because of her selfishness and lack of depth, she is destined to screw up the lives of men who get close to her. Frankly, I think they overdid her character a bit in the first half of the film--you'd think that smart men would see right through her and know exactly what she is (I know I hated her almost as soon as I saw her on the screen).
The first man she becomes involved with is George (Melvin Douglas). George is competent, decent and a very good catch--and her sister, Louise (Barbara O'Neil)is already in love with him. After marrying him, Frou Frou has a child and everything seems fine. However, George becomes frustrated with Frou Frou. She's very simple-minded and too self-absorbed to be much of a mother (as he describes her "she's more like a playmate than a mother to the boy"), she spends money with abandon and offers no intellectual stimulation for her husband. When he is offered an important assignment from the government to the new territories of Texas and New Mexico, she refuses to go, as she finds these places boring (though she's never even seen them)! He stays but is quite unhappy about this and it's obvious that something bad is brewing in this marriage! I actually liked this next part of the film. I had incorrectly assumed that Frou Frou would cheat on George and was too selfish to even try to be a proper wife. This would have been the easy next step for the film. Fortunately, the writers chose a different and much more interesting path.
Because Frou Frou is so irresponsible and daffy, her sister Louise comes to live with them. Over time, the boy looks more to Louise for guidance and love and it's clear to the audience that she is slowly taking Frou Frou's place. In the meantime, Andre returns and begins to make the moves on Frou Frou. He can see that she is unhappy but Frou Frou refuses--she is determined to keep her home intact. She seems to realize that her marriage is slipping away from her and she makes some efforts to work on it...but it appears to possibly be too late. In desperation, Frou Frou tries to arrange a marriage for Louise to get her out of the house but Louise refuses the offer! Eventually, however, Frou Frou realizes that the marriage is beyond her ability to save it. Then, and only then, she runs to Andre. At this point, her life and the lives of those around her are in ruins--her family is aghast and she and Andre are now outcasts. As the film nears the end, George and Andre are about to kill each other in a duel--and Frou Frou realizes that this is her doing. How this all ends is something you'll just have to see for yourself.
Overall, not a great film but there is a lot to be admired. Several times during the film, I anticipated what would happen next and was wrong. Being a huge fan of classic Hollywood, my 'batting average' is pretty good in anticipating plots and I am glad the the writers didn't take the easy way or rely on clichés. I also like how late in the film George's responsibility for marrying a woman like this and then being unjustly angry because she lacked depth was brought to light--it wasn't just a 'one-way street'. As long as the way they portray slavery doesn't completely alienate you (and it easily might), the film is well acted and original.
If you liked films like CAMILLE or JEZEBEL, then you will most likely enjoy seeing THE TOY WIFE.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I cannot agree with most of the reviewers here. No one loves movies
from this period more than I do, and I often cut them a great deal of
slack, allowing for period style variances from things we can't easily
accept in our contemporary culture.
But "Toy Wife" is just a bizarre, I think unpleasant film, and no more so than in its depiction of slavery. "Good" characters (like Louise, the sister played by Barbara O'Neil) say things like, "you will be beaten if you don't behave" and somehow there is nothing wrong with this kind of threat. Meanwhile, Luise Rainer has to die in the most moralistic Hollywood way - looking exquisite throughout - because of her sins. Most demeaning of all, beautiful (and black) Theresa Harris actually performs with skin-darkening makeup and a hint of a mustache.
This movie makes race relations in "Gone with the Wind" look like the most enlightened in film history. Would that Metro had asked George Cukor to bring his wonderful period touch and understanding of human feeling to this film; instead we have clunky Richard Thorpe, who allows Rainer to simper and moue her way through the part, and brings out the most wooden performances you can imagine from two excellent actors, Robert Young and Melvyn Douglas. Not for a moment do we believe any of the love that (in theory) is propelling all the characters. Imagine the material in the hands of Frank Borzage - or Victor Fleming, for a different approach that would have at least had some vivacity.
So really, a disappointment.
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