In the 1946 cartoon short Hollywood Daffy (1946), a cartoon version of Bette Davis is seen entering the Warmer Brothers studio lot talking to herself: "So, you say I'm mean to you. You say I'm mad, cruel, domineering. Well, you're right. I'm all this--and heaven, too".
Contrary to his screen image, Charles Boyer was short, paunchy and had a receding hairline. When Bette Davis first saw him, he was out of costume, so she did not recognize him and tried to have him removed from the set.
The bed in the Duchesse's bedroom is the same bed used in Gone with the Wind (1939) in Scarlett's bedroom, after Scarlett has married Rhett. Ironically, Barbara O'Neil played Scarlett's mother in that movie.
Based on the true story of the Duc de Choiseul-Praslin, a French politician who was accused of the brutal murder of his wife Fanny Sebastiani in 1848. Praslin committed suicide via poison while under house arrest, subsequently causing the murder trial to be annulled. To this day the murder remains one of France's most famous "unsolved" murder cases.
The original cut of the film was reportedly 190 minutes long (just over three hours), the final cut was shaved down to 141 minutes. There is no surviving footage from the content that was eventually edited out.
The budget for this film was much higher than for a typical Warner Bros. production (the studio was infamous for cutting corners on every conceivable aspect of a picture). This time, however, studio head Jack L. Warner wanted a film that would give the kind of prestige to Warners that _Gone with the Wind (1939) did to MGM, so he spared no expense in trying to achieve that goal.
Barbara O'Neil was extremely unhappy with how her character was portrayed on screen; she felt that the Duchesse should be less glamorous and much older looking so that it would make more sense that her character would have more reason to be jealous of the much younger Henriette.
Upon their first meeting, the Duchesse de Praslin asks Henriette how old she is, and is told "25"; the Duchesse considers this "so young". In real life, Barbara O'Neil was 29 years old at the time of filming, while Bette Davis was two years older.
Two of Bette Davis' and Charles Boyer's scenes are filmed with fires burning noticeably in the background with a gap between them so the flames are evident; this was deliberate to symbolize the passion "burning" between them.
Bette Davis remarked of her director that "Litvak had it all on paper; he planned every move. There is not the spontaneity or flexibility". She found him very heavy-handed and inflexible in his direction, which may partly explain her own performance which most critics agree does not rank among her best.
Charles Boyer wore a girdle to streamline his waist and straighten his posture. In 1848 it was still common practice in Europe for men of the nobility (especially in France) to wear corsets and stays beneath their garments.
Although all of the characters (other than Henry Martyn Field) are meant to be French, only the Duc has a French accent. Bette Davis speaks with an English lilt, as her character Henriette had come from England after being a governess to a British family.
Charles Boyer left the US to enlist in the French army at the beginning of World War II to support France; due to his being much older (40) than the average enlistee, he was assigned clerical duties and general tasks. After his early discharge he returned to America and starred in this film.
According to an item in the May 9, 1940 "Hollywood News" column of the "New York Herald', Warner Brothers executives were talking about releasing the film in its original 3:40 running length, but in two parts. Subsequently it was shortened by 20 minutes for a preview screening in June, 1940 after which it was shortened by another 60 minutes before its release the following month.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
In this film Charles Boyer's character commits suicide. In real life Boyer actually did commit suicide, by overdosing on barbiturates, on Aug. 26, 1978, two days after his beloved wife, Pat Paterson, died of cancer.
Charles Boyer was incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of being abusive towards a woman, which is why the director opted to use facial expressions as an indication of what was to come; reportedly, Boyer's intense glares in the "anger" scenes frightened Barbara O'Neil.
Henriette (Bette Davis) is seen sitting at the Duc de Praslin's unmarked grave; however, a popular theory is that the real Duc de Choiseul-Praslin staged his death in order to escape to Nicaragua, where he lived until his death at 78.