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William A. Seiter
Fourteen-year-old Tessa is hopelessly in love with handsome composer Lewis Dodd, a family friend. Lewis adores Tessa, but has never shown any romantic feelings toward her. When Tessa's father dies, Lewis contacts her late mother's wealthy family so they'll take care of Tessa and her sisters. Lewis becomes taken with Tessa's haughty cousin Florence and the two soon marry and head off for Florence's estate in England. Meanwhile, Florence sends Tessa and her sister Paula off to finishing school. The girls run away from school and Tessa moves in with Florence and Louis. Florence soon becomes consumed with jealousy over the bond between her husband and Tessa. Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Joan Fontaine got the lead role of Tessa by a lucky chance. One day, she was having lunch at Romanoff's in Hollywood, with her husband, actor Brian Aherne. The two had just flown in by airplane from their grape ranch in Indio, California, and Fontaine was in a leather flight suit with her hair done in pigtails. Director Edmund Goulding walked into the restaurant, and stopped by their table to say hello to his good friend Aherne. Goulding complained that he was having trouble casting a lead actress for his next movie, "The Constant Nymph." Although he had considered Joan Leslie, she was wrong for the part. And, Goulding explained, "Jack Warner wants a star in the lead, but she has to be consumptive, flat-chested, anemic, and fourteen!" "How about me?" said Fontaine. "Who are you?" asked Goulding, not recognizing the freckled girl in pigtails sitting next to him. "Joan Fontaine," said the actress. Goulding looked startled. "You're perfect!" Fontaine was signed for the part the next day, and later called it "the happiest motion-picture assignment of my career." See more »
Based on a novel by Margaret Kennedy, this film The Constant Nymph, starring Charles Boyer and Joan Fontaine, is a typical 1940's studio retelling of a classic style romance, the story of a fragile young girl's infatuation and adoration for an older, attractive musician.
While I think the production values and the sensuality of Letter From An Unknown Woman are superior to this film, this story also manages to captivate the viewer with its own brooding romanticism, solid performances, and beautiful music by Erich Korngold (Amazon sells CDs of this music in several movie soundtrack anthologies). Thankfully my copy of this film is pristine and that improves one's enjoyment of it.
Striking Alexis Smith as the unloved wife delivers a mighty performance, and almost steals the picture from Joan Fontaine and Charles Boyer. The supporting actors are also very good, including Charles Coburn, Peter Lorre, Brenda Marshall, Dame May Witty, and Jean Muir. I admit I was a bit frustrated by the character of the musician played by Charles Boyer. Men who marry women just because they are attracted to them and not because they love them irk me to no end. That was the situation here and it sets the viewer up for a very frustrating experience by the end of the picture.
The Constant Nympth is a decent romantic melodrama, with a very touching conclusion, but it's not outstanding or unforgettable, like Letter From An Unknown Woman surely is.
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