Saturday, June 30, 2018

Anthony Adverse

One of those movies I had known about for a long time only because it's in those lists of Oscar winners is Anthony Adverse. I finally DVRed it the last time it showed up on TCM. It's going to be on again tomorrow at 11:30 AM, which was the impetus for me finally to get around to watching it.

Fredric March gets top billing, although he doesn't show up for quite some time. Instead, we get a long introductory sequence introducing us to Anthony and his backstory. In France circa 1770, Don Luis (Claude Rains) is the Spanish ligate to France, having just gotten married to Maria (Anita Louise). However, he's also busted his foot and has to go to the spa for a spa cure. Maria is perfectly happy for that, since this is an arranged marriage and she doesn't like her creep of a husband. She's been having a torrid love affair with Denis (Louis Hayward), one that results in her getting knocked up. Eventually, Don Luis finds out and kills Denis in a duel. Maria dies in childbirth, and Don Luis leaves the baby at a girls' convent school, and Maria's maid Faith (Gale Sondergaard) with Maria's father John Bonnyfeather (Edmund Gwenn), a British merchant in Livorno (called by the old-fashioned English name Leghorn), Italy.

Long backstory, isn't it. And it's still not over. Ten years pass and the nuns have to do something with the kid, since you can't well have a boy at a girls' school. So they look for a foster parent among the British merchants to whom they can apprentice the boy, whom they named Anthony since the boy was dropped off at the convent on the feast day of St. Anthony. Bonnyfeather immediately recognizes the resemblance between the young boy and his dead daughter, although how the kid grows up to look like Fredric March is a mystery to me. Faith, on the other hand, is pissed. She knows the kid is a danger. She was slated to receive the bulk of the Bonnyfeather estate if John died without a biological descendant, but now there's this damn kid. And don't you know that John wants to make Anthony his chief heir.

Anthony grows up and falls in love with the chef's daughter Angela (Olivia de Havilland, turning 102 tomorrow unless she drops dead in the next 24 hours), who wants to be an opera singer. But Napoleon invades, and that threatens everybody's business, especially Bonnyfeather who's got debtors all over the place. Bonnyfeather sends Anthony to go to Havana to deal with one of the debts. But before heading off, Anthony marries Angela and the two go off to their separate jobs.

Years pass, and Anthony goes first to Havana, and then to Africa to be a slave trader to pay off Bonnyfeather's debts. And when he finally does that he heads for home in Livorno, where he finds out that John died and that Faith hid the news from him because of that whole inheritance thing. So it's off to Paris to straighten out the inheritance, with Faith and her now husband Don Luis in hot pursuit to stop Anthony. To make matters even more complicated, Angela has made her way to Paris where she's known as Mlle. Georges, a successful singer and mistress of Napoleon. She's also born Anthony a son, who was obviously conceived in the quickie Anthony and Angela had in the 20 minutes between when they were married and when the two had to go off to Havana and the opera tour respectively.

Anthony Adverse is one of those wannabe epics that's not particularly epic, instead being more of a story that goes on and on and on and never really goes anywhere. To me it felt more like a series of scenes than a connected whole. The acting is also uneven. March is surprisingly bland here, while Rains overacts, chewing the scenery every chance he gets. De Havilland is second-billed, but doesn't have much to do. Gale Sondergaard won the first Best Supporting Actress for hissing her way through the role and basically looking nasty all the time.

Anthony Adverse is available on DVD from the Warner Archive. But it's a movie I'd suggest watching on TCM first before deciding whether you want to spend the money on the DVD.

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