Early 1905, French governess Emilie Gallatin (Ingrid Bergman) is hired to care of a luxurious family mansion and the four sons of wealthy Adam Stoddard (Warner Baxter) and his wife, Molly Stoddard (Fay Wray). Things couldn't be more perfect, until in 1907, first Molly dies, and then the stock market crashes, wiping out the Soddard's fortune. Emilie is forced to go back home to France. The parting is difficult, for the teenager boys - Jack Stoddard (Billy Ray), David Stoddard (Steven Muller), Chris Stoddard (Wallace Chadwell), and Phillip Stoddard (Bobby Walberg) - had grown to depend on Emilie more after the loss of their mother, and Emilie had fallen in love with Adam. Seven years later, just before the beginning of World War I, the family's fortunes have improved, and Adam insists with Emilie to return and stay on as part of the family - preserving her from the foreseeable fates of war. The four boys are adults, and they all serve in various branches of the military - Jack Stoddard (... Written by
I watched this one twice because being an Ingrid Bergman (and Fay Wray) fan, I was wondering why she would have ever agreed to do this turkey. The only reason I can think of is that it was early in her career and she had no choice. On the other hand she was the headliner so it would seem she must have had some pull.
But I digress. The story is not a bad one albeit a tad hard to believe. You have a young woman arrive from France as governess for the family's four boys, the family's wealth evaporates, the governess returns home, WWI erupts and unfolds, ten years pass, and the governess is asked back. Give me a break! Why would they want her back, to care for the now practically grown sons? Why would she want to come back, didn't she have a life during those ten years other than pine for the patriarch she fell in love with? This premise is just way too weak to be taken seriously. Call me a grinch but it's hard to believe she had no offers during that time.
It also turns out everyone involved is clearly clairvoyant. They understand things on first sight. When Emilie (Bergman) meets Hester (Hayward) she immediately divines that she is a viper. That's just one example, there's lots more. Without words or background people intimate facts not in evidence and the story moves on. I guess this has to do with character development and unfortunately there's little of that here.
And then there's Warren Baxter, an actor with just one expression: a wooden one. The only reason I've ever watched a film with him was because of his co-stars. We have three here: Bergman of course, classy Fay Wray who is as beautiful as ever and always a joy to watch, and Susan Hayward in only her fifth credited part. The male parts are all forgettable, it's the women who rule this film. The tension between Bergman and Hayward is palpable although not entirely understandable. Still it adds a little spice to a yawning bore of a film so I guess that may be one reason to sit through the first half when nothing happens.
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