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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 <email@example.com>
In this last and only American version of The Constant Nymph the omnipresent Code had to be dealt with rather delicately in order for this film to get to the big screen. It involves nothing less than a middle aged man falling in love with an underage girl. No wonder the original casting of Errol Flynn was scratched by Jack Warner.
In 1943 as Robert Osborne said rather delicately himself, Flynn was having some 'legal problems'. He sure was, he was facing a charge of statutory rape and was fighting for his career. No wonder he was scratched and Charles Boyer substituted as the pianist/composer. Even without the rape charge I don't Flynn would have been suitable casting in that role in any event.
But it was Joan Fontaine who got the Oscar recognition with a nomination for Best Actress playing a teenager of barely legal age who has a congenital heart problem and who charms Boyer. In the original novel and the play made from it, Boyer's character actually runs off with the Fontaine character.
Some of the same territory was tread on by Billy Wilder in The Major And The Minor, but Ginger Rogers was only pretending to be an adolescent.
Boyer meets Fontaine and her siblings Brenda Marshall, Jean Muir, and Joyce Reynolds at the home of their father Montagu Love. When he dies the girls go to their uncle Charles Coburn to live, except Marshall who marries Peter Lorre. That in itself is something, how often does Peter Lorre get the girl? Boyer marries Coburn's daughter Alexis Smith, but Smith senses something wrong and develops a jealousy of Fontaine. Turns out that while Boyer doesn't do anything, she's right to be suspicious.
The novel by Margaret Kennedy was turned into a play by Basil Dean and debuted in London with no less than Noel Coward and Edna Best in the leads. It ran 148 performances on Broadway in the 1926-27 season and two film versions across the pond were made, a silent with Ivor Novello and another sound version that starred Brian Aherne who would later marry Joan Fontaine. I'd be curious to see how the whole May/September romance was handled there.
Fontaine lost the Oscar that year to newcomer Jennifer Jones who was also playing a juvenile of a different kind in The Song Of Bernadette.
The Constant Nymph is a strange yet curiously winning film. One wonders how the story would be done today in a film.
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