THE CONSTANT NYMPH
(director: Edmund Goulding; screenwriters: Kathryn Scola/from the novel by Margaret Kennedy/from the play by Margaret Kennedy & Basil Dean; cinematographer: Tony Gaudio; editor: David Weisbart; music: Erich Wolfgang Korngold; cast: Charles Boyer (Lewis Dodd), Joan Fontaine (Tessa Sanger), Alexis Smith (Florence Creighton), Brenda Marshall (Toni Sanger), Charles Coburn (Charles Creighton), Dame May Whitty (Lady Longborough), Peter Lorre (Fritz Bercovy), Joyce Reynolds (Paula Sanger), Jean Muir (Kate Sanger), Montagu Love (Albert Sanger), Marcel Dalio (Georges), Doris Lloyd (Miss Hamilton), Eduardo Cannelli (Roberto); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Henry Blanke; Warner Archive Collection; 1943)
“This Hollywood romantic drama is star Joan Fontaine’s favorite of all her films.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This Hollywood romantic drama is star Joan Fontaine’s favorite of all her films, in which she received her third and last Oscar nomination. It’s in b&w and unevenly directed by Edmund Goulding (“Love”/”Riptide”/”The Devil’s Holiday”), who allows it to drag in parts, become overlong and feel artificial in a stagy way. It’s based on the 1924 novel by Margaret Kennedy and on the play she co-wrote with Basil Dean, and is adapted to the screen by Kathryn Scola. It was filmed before in 1928 (silent) and 1939 by British studios.
Belgian living Albert Sanger (Montagu Love), the unfortunate unconventional ailing musician, and father of the four girls, Kate (Jean Muir), Toni (Brenda Marshall), Tessa (Joan Fontaine) and Paula (Joyce Reynolds), dies, and leaves 2 girls who are old enough to be on their own. Kate studies music in Milan while Toni marries the wealthy Fritz Bercovy (Peter Lorre). The other 2 girls, Tessa and Paula, are taken to England by their uncle Charles Creighton (Charles Coburn) and his pretty daughter Florence Creighton (Alexis Smith). The self-absorbed European composer, Lewis Dodd (Charles Boyer), a friend of the Sanger family, who was invited to the Sanger home by the father before he died to make sure all his daughters are cared for when he dies. Lewis, needing reassurance after his concert was savaged by London critics, is told by his friend Albert that his music lacks feelings but is well-coposed. During the visit Lewis is unaware that the 14-year-old Tessa, though much younger and suffering from a bum ticker, is smitten with him and he instead falls madly in love with her older socialite cousin Florence. In a week-long courtship he marries her and moves with her to England, where he lives without joy when he can’t connect with the materialism of England and his wife’s prosaic world. As a result his music compositions fail to materialize. Meanwhile the delicate Tessa and her sister Paula are unhappy in school and run away to hide in the unhappy composer’s house. Both Tessa and Lewis discover they are soul mates and of the same spiritual temperament and are in love with each other, as a love triangle develops.
The “women’s weepie” is handled with intelligence, wit and touching restraint, as its tragic love story unfoldsof a musician in search of a muse.
Fontaine, Smith and Boyer are terrific as leads, while supporting roles byCharles Coburn, Dame May Whitty and Peter Lorre contribute greatly to the film’s success.
The film is now part of the Library of Congress. It was unavailable for more than half a century due to rights disputes.
REVIEWED ON 6/28/2014 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/