Sidney Franklin directed MGM’s original version of this story in 1934. It was based on a successful stage play that Irving Thalberg purchased for his wife Norma Shearer. On Broadway, Katharine Cornell had been very successful playing Elizabeth Barrett Browning; in fact, she reprised the role several times throughout her illustrious stage career. When Shearer appeared in the first big screen version, she too had a hit, winning over skeptical critics with her carefully measured performance of the reclusive poet. A lot of Shearer’s success could be attributed to Franklin, so when MGM decided to remake the property, Franklin was again assigned to direct.
Originally MGM had planned to put Grace Kelly in the remake, but she turned down several roles and was put on suspension. So Jennifer Jones stepped in, which was a dream come true for the actress who had longed to play the part on screen. Jones, under her first stage name, had used a scene from the original play to audition for drama school when she was younger. Once Jones was signed, she and Sidney Franklin went to London where they joined an all-British cast and crew to begin the new project. Robert Browning would be played by handsome leading man Bill Travers; and Travers’ wife Virginia McKenna was also cast, playing one of Elizabeth’s sisters.
While the earlier film featured Charles Laughton as domineering Edward Moulten-Barrett, this later production utilized the acting services of John Gielgud. Gielgud is exceptional as the tyrannical Victorian father, and his performance is a bit more modest than Laughton’s had been. For instance, Laughton would use his eyes to suggest incestuous tendencies that may have been an aspect of the father-daughter relationship. However, biographers agree that none of this can be proved about the Barretts; only that Edward was very controlling and did threaten to disinherit his daughters if they married suitors who didn’t meet with his approval (which seemed to be all of them).
Sidney Franklin had directed Jennifer Jones in retake scenes from her earlier 1947 motion picture DUEL IN THE SUN. But other than this, he hadn’t directed a film in twenty years when this remake was produced. He had spent the 1940s and much of the 1950s serving as a writer-producer at Metro. But he was once again coaching actors in this extravagantly budgeted British undertaking. It would be his last film as director, and perhaps because television was now ruling the entertainment industry, the picture did not fare well too well when it hit movie screens. That doesn’t make it any less worthy of our attention now, since the efforts of Miss Jones and everyone else involved make it a beautiful and special experience. There’s something poetic about it.
THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET will air on TCM on September 26th.
Eyewear can be memorable in the movies. Just ask Harold Lloyd. It became a trademark for him.
When Hildegarde Withers solved crimes she used her specs to make sure she could see all the clues and stare at anyone who might be guilty.
Harpo Marx had his horn and a harp. Brother Groucho had a mustache and these:
Marilyn made lenses look sexy.
In DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES Jack Lemmon experienced blurred vision when he used these glasses:
James Dean died on Friday September 30, 1955 at 5:40 p.m. Everyone read about it in the newspaper during the days that followed:
This article, published on October 1, compared him to Marlon Brando and said he was the second young movie star to die this year. The first one was Robert Francis who perished in a plane crash at the end of July. James Dean was described by the writer as an amateur racing enthusiast who was on his way to a road race in Salinas when he was killed in a head-on collision. Apparently a college student named Donald Turnupseed was in the other car that James Dean hit. But Turnupseed only suffered minor injuries. The actor was still alive when the ambulance arrived, but he died on the way to the hospital. He had a broken neck, his arms were fractured, and he had internal injuries. A passenger named Ralph Wuetherich survived; he had serious injuries.
The above clip was published on October 2, and it gives us a bit of irony. Supposedly he had received a speeding ticket about two hours before the crash that claimed his life. As you can see in the last paragraph, they figured out how fast he was driving from when he got the ticket to where his car went off the road.
Here’s a newspaper from Jimmy’s home community in Indiana (he is called Jimmy in the article). It was published on October 6, which leads me to believe The Fairmount News was a weekly paper. It repeats most of the same information from the first article I included, with one notable exception– they claim he was struck by the other car, not that he struck the other car. He is not remembered as not being at fault.
When LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING was released, 20th Century Fox was striving to bring more realism to the screen. The studio’s version of Han Suyin’s book challenged the production code, and it gave audiences something thrilling to watch. Fox turned out other romance dramas in the mid-50s that were just as topical and sensational– PEYTON PLACE and ISLAND IN THE SUN come to mind. The adult subject matter was often adapted from daring stage plays or sexy novels.
William Holden was one of the most popular actors in Hollywood at this time, so it’s no surprise he was chosen to play the leading man. For over fifteen years, he had appeared in a succession of hits and was on the verge of being awarded an Oscar. You might say his charm, dashing looks and down-to-earth personality made him a quintessential post-WWII hero. He tended to play characters who knew what they wanted, and this is what his fans wanted.
Leading lady Jennifer Jones was known for conveying a nervous intensity. She often played two types of females– lonely single women or tempted married ones. She brought a spiritual quality to her roles– most evident in classics like SONG OF BERNADETTE and PORTRAIT OF JENNIE. In LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING, Jones portrays a career woman of mixed race. Her character is seen as independent, but she becomes involved with Holden‘s character by destiny.
Interestingly, the film received a B rating by the Legion of Decency. The B rating meant Fox’s production was morally objectionable. It was regarded by the Catholic Church as promoting venal sin. Today it seems rather tame, and it gives us an interesting glimpse into how romantic stories were depicted on screen ten years after the war– when movies were trying to compete with television.
LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING is directed by Henry King. It will be broadcast by TCM on September 19th.
It was a summer morning when he arrived. A fast-moving object circled the planet and landed in Washington D.C. Then a crowd quickly gathered around the large, metallic saucer; and a man named Klaatu emerged. He told everyone he had brought a gift for our president.
A group of soldiers surrounded the alien aircraft. One of the soldiers didn’t believe that Klaatu had come in peace and shot him.
Then an enormous robot named Gort stepped out of the saucer, and people ran in terror. Gort emitted a mysterious ray that melted the soldier’s weapon until Klaatu told him to stop.
Klaatu was taken to Walter Reed Hospital, where it was learned he had journeyed 250 million miles to Earth. Klaatu said he needed to talk to all of our leaders, but due to the world’s unstable political climate, they couldn’t agree on how to meet. Klaatu emphasized that his mission was too important to be derailed by international squabbles. The future of each nation was at stake.
The next day Klaatu had sufficiently recovered from his wound. He was told our president invited the world’s leaders to meet, but many refused unless they could host the summit. Klaatu then decided to learn more about us, and he escaped from the hospital. News broadcasts announced Klaatu’s disappearance, but they didn’t have any pictures of him.
Klaatu began to use the name Carpenter. This was when he rented a room at the boardinghouse where I lived with my mother. Klaatu wanted to go on a tour of Washington, so I went with him. During our tour, he took me to visit the saucer. But when we returned to the boardinghouse, a government agent picked up Klaatu. He tried to explain that Earth’s people are reaching a technological level at which they might be a danger to other planets. He was here to warn us all of the consequences of our actions. But would we listen?
Some films cast an enchanting spell over viewers, like PORTRAIT OF JENNIE. Producer David Selznick bought the rights to turn Robert Nathan’s 1940 novella into a motion picture after his protege Jennifer Jones earned an Oscar for SONG OF BERNADETTE. Like Bernadette, Jennie is another one of those delicate heroines imbued with a sense of mystery that Jones excelled at playing. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else in this role but her.
Selznick had Joseph Cotten under contract during these years, and the actor had already been Jones’ leading man in the 1945 hit LOVE LETTERS. In this film he plays a struggling painter named Eben Adams– a man who becomes charmed by young Jennie Appleton one wintry day in New York City. What’s interesting about the way the story begins is that we’re told it’s 1934, with Adams and the rest of the country in the throes of the Depression and great poverty. But Jennie is clearly not from the same time. Soon she begins to describe her life to the artist in a way that intrigues, captivates and even haunts him.
It is significant to note that Adams does not see Jennie until after he meets an elderly gallery owner named Miss Spinney (Ethel Barrymore). Spinney likes him right off and she becomes his benefactor. He likes her too, and because of her influence, he switches from doing landscapes to painting portraits. It is Miss Spinney who tells him that his work must have a drop of love in it. A short time later, when he meets Jennie, he begins to experience that love.
Jennie appears to Adams intermittently throughout the story. She seems to be changing in a way that occurs outside of real time, almost as if she is slipping through it. While the movie does not reveal what is behind this strange phenomena, it’s my impression that Jennie is really a part of Miss Spinney. And that Miss Spinney is probably losing track of time because of dementia. Miss Spinney’s love and her appreciation of his talent is what takes Adams to this other realm. There’s a scene around the 28-minute mark where Jennie is skating away from him at the park, and as she goes he turns and sees Miss Spinney alongside him.
Adding to the various interpretations that might be applied to this film is the nearly surreal way in which the movie is shot. The cinematographer filmed several of the outdoor scenes through a canvas; and Selznick made sure the exteriors were done on location, so that even though there are these fantastic elements, there also is a degree or realism. The portrait of Jennie that Adams paints in the story is depicted on screen in the form of a portrait of Jennifer Jones that was done by Robert Brackman. Though it is technically a movie prop, it seems to take on a life of its own in the final Technicolor sequence where we see the portrait up close. Eben Adams left behind a masterpiece. And so did David Selznick.
PORTRAIT OF JENNIE is directed by William Dieterle and can be seen on TCM on September 12th.
It’s fun to “meet” new people online who enjoy classic films. Earlier this year a guy named Curtis liked one of the reviews I posted on the IMDb. He found me on Facebook, and we’ve corresponded quite a bit.
Curtis: Good evening Jarrod, I enjoyed LURED and found Lucy to be more effective than she was in her role in THE DARK CORNER. I did feel like the story lost momentum and became somewhat convoluted in the middle only to pick up steam again in the final third. I truly enjoyed the presence of character actors Charles Coburn, George Sanders and Cedric Hardwicke.
Me: Yes, I would agree the middle part of the story drags– the stuff with Alan Mowbray and the girls taking jobs in South America could have been eliminated without affecting the main story. Lucy’s line readings are kind of odd in some scenes. But she does have chemistry with Sanders.
Curtis: Thank you for also recommending BLANCHE FURY. The movie had an engaging storyline and strong performances from Valerie Hobson and Stewart Granger. Valerie Hobson was immediately familiar to me from GREAT EXPECTATIONS and THE INTERRUPTED JOURNEY.
Me: I’m glad you enjoyed BLANCHE FURY– the minute the horse rides up in the beginning, I’m hooked. The Technicolor cinematography is amazing, and I love the whole gothic feel to it, especially the cryptic ending. Another thing I like is how the subplot with the gypsies seems independent of the main plot, but then there’s an event that connects everything and that’s when we start to see what kind of man Granger’s character is.
Curtis: I can easily see why you would enjoy BLANCHE FURY. The film is very engaging and holds one’s interest from beginning to end. The opening scene with the galloping horses grabs the viewer right away in addition to exhibiting fantastic cinematography and energy.
Valerie Hobson and Stewart Granger both nailed their roles and were perfectly cast. There are many stylish scenes and touches in addition to the wonderful gothic atmosphere. I love the segment when Valerie Hobson first spots Stewart Granger wearing the red bandana shortly before the murders take place. For some reason, the film makes me think of THE WICKED LADY with Margaret Lockwood.