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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>
Interesting but not an absolute classic about artistic bohemians vs. conformity
TCM recently managed to clear the rights of this film from the literary executors of Basil Dean (who coauthored the play version) and Margaret Kennedy (who authored the novel and play adaptation). The television premiere was on TCM on September 28, 2011. The original 1924 novel has been reprinted in paperback but I have not read it yet.
It seems that the 1943 Hollywood adaptation cleans most of the sex out of the story which was dealt with in the novel. Also the book focuses on the entire Sanger family while the film (and play) focuses on the central triangle of Tessa, Lewis Dodd and Florence. I think that Boyer and Fontaine are somewhat miscast as Tessa and Dodd though both perform excellently. It seems that in the novel the pair become lovers though Tessa is underage and they actually do escape together to Brussels. Also, the sister Toni Sanger already has had a sexual affair with Birnbaum, played in the movie by Peter Lorre as Fritz Bercovy. In the film both affairs remain chaste - at least until Toni Sanger is safely married to the Birnbaum/Bercovy character.
In the film, the pedophilia issue is dodged by having Dodd and Tessa realize and acknowledge they are lovers/soul mates without any form of consummation - even kissing. Their love is idealized and unrealizable on this earth. One love scene that was probably played for real in the book or play is done as a "dream vision" by Tessa while she listen's to Dodd's symphony on the radio.
Fontaine is too old but shows a remarkable lack of vanity - wearing no makeup and using an awkward, hyperactive physicality to suggest an adolescent girl. Boyer comes off as too much the mature European roué - Robert Donat, Errol Flynn and Leslie Howard were all considered for the part. Not enough is made of Lewis' social nonconformity - in the book he is also the son of wealth who repudiates his class and its values. Alexis Smith as Florence, the unhappy excluded wife comes off best in some ways - her character has a genuine conflict going on and is proactive. Smith as another poster mentioned is simultaneously hateful, understandable and pitiful and she fights for a relationship that is essentially doomed. Florence's attraction to bohemian artistic types is in conflict with her basic inability to sympathize with their lifestyles and values. This conflict is truthfully captured by Smith and Goulding.
The studio sets in the Austrian Tyrol scenes look like a mix of Kentucky farm and English moors and are not convincing. There is a genuine sophistication here but without the characters taking that final fatal step into the forbidden, some of the guts of the story is lost. The previous two adaptation of the book - a 1928 silent with Ivor Novello and Mabel Poulton (preserved by the BFI) and an unavailable or lost 1934 remake with Victoria Hopper and Brian Aherne evidently hewed closer to the novel.
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