Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1840s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1840s:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1840s

1 - The Heiress

1. “The Heiress” (1949) – William Wyler directed this superb adaptation of Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s 1947 play, which was an adaptation of Henry James’ 1980 novel, “Washington Square”. The movie starred Oscar winner Olivia De Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson and Miriam Hopkins.

2 - All This and Heaven Too

2. “All This and Heaven Too” (1940) – Anatole Litvak co-produced and directed this excellent adaptation of Rachel Fields’ 1938 novel. The movie starred Bette Davis and Charles Boyer.

3 - Half-Slave Half-Free Solomon Northup Odyssey

3. “Half-Slave, Half-Free: The Solomon Northup Odyssey” (1984) – Avery Brooks starred in this emotional television adaptation of Solomon Northups’ 1853 memoirs, “12 Years a Slave”. Directed by Gordon Parks, the movie co-starred Rhetta Greene, John Saxon, Lee Bryant, Art Evans and Mason Adams.

5 - The Mark of Zorro

4. “The Mark of Zorro” (1940) – Rouben Mamoulian directed this superb adaptation of Johnston McCulley’s 1919 story called “The Curse of Capistrano”. The movie starred Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell and Basil Rathbone.

4 - The Liberators

5. “The Liberators” (1987) – Robert Carradine and Larry B. Scott starred in this Disney adventure film about Underground Railroad conductor John Fairfield and his fugitive slave friend, Bill; who escort Kentucky slaves north of the Mason-Dixon Line to freedom. Kenneth Johnson starred.

6 - The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin

6. “The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin” (1967) – Roddy McDowall and Suzanne Pleshette starred in this Disney adaptation of Sid Fleischman’s 1963 children’s novel called “By the Great Horn Spoon!”. James Neilson directed.

7 - Camille

7. “Camille” (1936) – George Cukor directed this lavish adaptation of Alexandre Dumas fils’ 1848 novel and 1852 play called “La Dame aux Camélias”. The movie starred Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor.

8 - Cousin Bette

8. “Cousin Bette” (1998) – Jessica Lange starred in this loose adaptation of Honoré de Balzac’s 1846 novel. Although unpopular with critics and moviegoers, it is a favorite of mine. Directed by Des McAnuff, the movie co-starred Hugh Laurie, Elisabeth Shue and Kelly MacDonald.

9 - Jane Eyre

9. “Jane Eyre” (2011) – Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender starred in the 2011 movie adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel. The movie was directed by Cary Fukunaga.

10 - 12 Years a Slave

10. “12 Years a Slave” (2013) – British director Steve McQueen helmed this Oscar winning second adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoirs about the latter’s experiences as a slave in the Deep South. The movie starred Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender.

“ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO” (1940) Review

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“ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO” (1940) Review

Whenever one conjured the image of Warner Brothers Studio during the 1930s and 40s, hard-hitting crime dramas or social commentaries come to mind. I would certainly not view melodramas – costumed or otherwise – as part of the studio’s usual repertoire. Then in 1933, Hal Wallis became the studio’s new production chief and eventually allowed the studio to release more films with a wider variety. And when Bette Davis became “Queen of the Lot” in the mid-to-late 1930s, the release of melodramas by Warner Brothers became more common.

One of the melodramas associated with Davis was “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO”, the 1940 movie adaptation of Rachel Fields’ 1938 novel. Set in France and northeastern United States during the mid-to-late 1840s, the movie told the story of a newly hired French schoolteacher at an American school, who finds herself reliving her past experiences with a French aristocratic family to her new students gossiping over the scandal that had followed her across the Atlantic. The movie begins in 1848 United States. Mademoiselle Henriette Deluzy-Desportes has been hired as the new French instructor at a girls’ school. To her dismay, she discovers that her new students are aware of the scandal that drove her out of France. Instead of resigning from the school, she decides to tell her students about her experiences with the family of the Duc de Praslin and Duchesse de Praslin.

The movie jumps back to 1846, during the last years of the Orleans monarchy, when Henriette arrives in France, following a five-year stint as a governess for an English family. After an interview with the Duc and Duchesse, Henriette is hired to act as governess for their three daughters and son. Although Henriette endears herself to the Duc and his four children, the Duchesse seemed to resent her presence. Due to an erratic temperament and an all compassing love for her husband, the Duchesse begins to suspect that Henriette is not only stealing the love of her children, but more importantly her husband. Despite her happy relationship with the de Praslin children, Henriette is forced to deal with the Duchesse’ increasingly hostile behavior, a growing awareness of the Duc’s feelings for her . . . and her own feelings for him. The tensions within the family culminates in the Duchesse’s brutal death, which leads to a great deal of legal problems for Henriette.

“ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO” proved to be a successful film, but not quite a major box office hit. I read somewhere that some at the Warner Brothers Studios blamed the movie’s elaborate production designs for overwhelming the other aspects of the movie. I do not know if I could agree with this assessment. Granted, I found some of Carl Jules Weyl’s art designs of 1840s France a bit grandiose – especially in scenes featuring the de Praslin household. But considering the high level of melodrama and characterization, I find this opinion a bit hard to accept. I also find it difficult to agree with this slightly negative opinion of the movie’s visual style. Personally, I rather enjoyed it. I thought Weyl and his staff did an excellent job in re-creating the movie’s period – 1846 to 1848 via production designs, set designs, Warren Low’s editing and especially Ernest Haller’s Oscar nominated cinematography. I also have to compliment Orry-Kelly’s costume designs. The Australian-born designer had also created the costumes for some of Bette Davis’ movie, including 1938’s “JEZEBEL” and 1939’s “JUAREZ”. The designer could have easily been sloppy and re-used the costumes from those particular movies. Instead, Orry-Kelly created costumes that more or less accurately reflected the fashions of the mid-to-late 1840s.

While reading another review of “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO”, the writer complained that he/she found it difficult to believe that a forbidden romance between a French aristocrat and his governess led to the outbreak of the Revolution of 1848 and the fall of the July Monarchy in France. Apparently, the reviewer had failed to do any research or read Rachel Field’s novel. AFter all, the novel was based upon history, including Field’s family background. Henriette Deluzy-Desportes (or what was her real name) was one of Field’s ancestors. And from what I have read, the real scandal that surrounded the governess and the duke had a major impact on the 1848 revolution that broke out in France. But was the movie’s historical background completely accurate? I honestly do not know. I would have to read more on the 1848 Revolution in France and the life of the Duc de Praslin. If I have one complaint about the movie’s handling of this historical background, I do wish that Casey Robinson’s screenplay could have provided more hints about the upcoming political upheaval.

Overall, I really enjoyed “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO”. It is rare to come across a first-rate costume melodrama that can keep me enthralled during its entire running time. And this movie managed to achieve this, thanks to not only Robinson’s screenplay, but also Anatole Litvak’s steady direction. This was especially apparent in the first two-thirds of the movie that chronicled Henriette’s troubles with her American students, her arrival in France and her working and personal relationships with the de Praslin family. The movie’s best segment centered around the months she spent in the de Praslin family’s employment. Once, Henriette is dismissed by the Duchesse de Praslin for imagined slights, the movie struggled to maintain its momentum. This last third of the film centered on Henriette’s attempts to retrieve a reference from the Duchesse, the latter’s violent death, the legal wranglings that surrounded the murder and the finale in the United States. And yet . . . this last third of the film dragged so much – especially the period in which Henriette was in prison – that it threatened to overshadow my enjoyment of the film.

Aside from one particular performance, I have no problems with the movie’s cast. Bette Davis gave an engrossing and subtle performance as the movie’s lead character, Henriette Deluzy-Desportes. I will admit there were times I found the character a bit ideal for my liking – especially in the scenes featuring the governess and her charges. But the scenes featuring the growing love between Henriette and the Duc de Praslin and her conflicts with the Duchesse allowed Davis to superbly portray the governess more as a human being and less as a figure of feminine ideal. Charles Boyer was superb as the Duc de Praslin, a practical and loving man who found himself trapped in a marriage with a woman he no longer love. I feel it is to his credit that he could make the audience feel sympathetic toward a man who not only harbored adulterous feelings for another woman, but also murdered his wife.

The movie also featured fine performances from a supporting cast that included Jeffrey Lynn as Henriette’s future husband, the Reverend Henry Field; Harry Davenport as the de Praslin groundskeeper Pierre; Montagu Love as the Duc de Praslin’s father-in-law, Marshal Horace François Bastien Sébastiani de la Porta; and Henry Daniell as Monsieur Broussais, the man charged with investigating the Duchesse’s murder. “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO” also benefited from excellent performances from the child actors who portrayed Henriette’s charges. I was especially impressed by June Lockhart and Virginia Weidler, who portrayed the Duc and Duchesse’s two older offsprings. The only performance I had trouble with Barbara O’Neil’s portrayal of Frances, the Duchesse du Praslin. I realize the latter was supposed to be an emotional and possessive woman, whose selfishness left her family out in the cold. O’Neil was fine in those scenes in which she conveyed the Duchesse’s coldness and attempts at indifference toward Henriette. Otherwise, her shrill rants and emotional outbursts struck me as hammy. I am surprised that O’Neil was the only cast member to earn an Academy Award nomination for acting.

I cannot say that I agree with the old criticism of the production designs for “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO”. I believe the movie does suffer from some flaws that include occasional hammy acting from Barbara O’Neil and the slow pacing that nearly bogged down the third act. But Anatole Litvak’s direction, along with a first-rate screenplay by Casey Robinson, excellent production designs, and superb performances from a cast led by Bette Davis and Charles Boyer have led me to regard “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO” as an excellent example of a Hollywood costume melodrama at its best.

Top Favorite Romantic Movies

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I decided to list my top ten favorite romantic movies. Here they are: 

 

TOP FAVORITE ROMANTIC MOVIES

2-Casablanca

1. “Casablanca” (1942) – Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman starred in this Oscar-winning adaptation of the unpublished 1940 stage play, “Everybody Comes to Rick”, which is about an expatriate American who is reunited with a former lover that happened to be married to a Resistance leader. Directed by Michael Curtiz, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains co-starred.

1-Lover Come Back

2. “Lover Come Back” (1961) – Rock Hudson and Doris Day co-starred in their second movie about rival advertising executives on Madison Avenue who clash over a product that does not exist. Directed by Delbert Mann, Tony Randall and Edie Adams co-starred.

3-It Happened One Night

3. “It Happened One Night” (1934) – Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert starred in this Oscar-winning adaptation of the Samuel Adams Hopkins short story, “Night Bus”. In it, an out-of-work journalist keeps tabs on a socialite running from her father to marry a playboy aviator. Frank Capra directed.

4-Brokeback Mountain

4. “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) – Ang Lee directed this Oscar winning adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story about two mid 20th century cowboys who engage in a 20-year forbidden affair. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal starred.

5-The Lady Eve

5. “The Lady Eve” (1941) – Preston Sturges wrote and directed this comedy about a female cardsharp who falls for the heir of a brewery fortune. When he dumps her after discovering her profession, she turns on him in revenge. Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda starred.

6-When Harry Met Sally

6. “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) – Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan starred in this romantic comedy about two people who become friends during a cross-country trip and decide to abstain from sex to maintain their friendship over a period of twelve years. The movie was directed by Rob Reiner and written by Nora Ephron.

7-Hitch

7. “Hitch” (2005) – Will Smith and Eva Mendes starred in this romantic comedy about a professional dating consultant who falls for a gossip columnist determined to ruin the reputation of the unmasked so-called “date doctor”. Directed by Andy Tennant, the movie co-starred Kevin James.

8-The Notebook

8. “The Notebook” (2004) – Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams starred in this adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ 1996 novel about a young couple in 1940s South Carolina, who struggle to overcome class differences. Nick Cassavetes directed.

9-Random Harvest

9. “Random Harvest” (1942) – Ronald Coman and Greer Garson starred in this adaptation of James Hilton’s 1941 novel about an amnesiac World War I veteran woh falls in love with a music hall star, only to suffer an accident which restores his original memories, but erases his post-War life. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, the movie co-starred Susan Peters and Philip Dorn.

10-Wimbledon

10. “Wimbledon” (2004) – Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst starred in this romantic comedy about a British washed-up tennis player and an American up-and-coming star who meet and romance during the Wimbledon Championships. Directed by Richard Loncraine, the movie co-starred Sam Neill and Jon Favreau.

“THE LADY EVE” (1941) Review

Below is my review of the classic 1941 comedy, “THE LADY EVE”, which was was written and directed by Preston Sturges:

”THE LADY EVE” (1941) Review

I must admit that I have never been a diehard fan of Preston Sturges. I realize that he is the one Hollywood director and screenwriter credited for taking the screwball comedy format to a more mature level. And this is certainly apparent in his films. But of all of his movies, I can only think of two that I consider personal favorites of mine. And one of those two happen to be his 1941 comedy classic, ”THE LADY EVE”.

Starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, ”THE LADY EVE” told the story about a mismatched romance between a beautiful con artist (Stanwyck) named Jean Harrington and Charles Pike (Fonda), the naïve heir to the Pike Ale fortune and a reptile expert. The pair met aboard an ocean liner bound from South America to the United States. Jean and her father, Colonel Harrington (Charles Coburn) decided to fleece Charles at cards, but she fell in love with him and ruined her father’s plans for a quick score. But Charles broke up the romance after learning that Jean and Colonel Harrington were gamblers and con artists, thanks to his ever vigilant valet/minder, Mugsy (William Demerest). Furious at being scorned, Jean re-entered Charles’ life, while masquerading as the posh “Lady Eve Sidwich” – niece of Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith (Eric Blore), another con man who’s been swindling the rich folk of Connecticut.

What can I say about ”THE LADY EVE”? It is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. Period. And that is quite an achievement for a film that is almost seventy (70) years old. Do not get me wrong. I can think of other comedies made during this period that were just as funny. Unfortunately, a good number of them tend to lose steam by the film’s last fifteen minutes or so. A good example of this would be the two comedies that Cary Grant and Irene Dunne made together – ”THE AWFUL TRUTH” and ”MY FAVORITE WIFE”. But thanks to Sturges and Monckton Hoffe, who wrote the movie’s original story, allowed Jean’s deception and torment of Charles in order to keep the laughs going . It began with that first moment when Jean and Colonel Harrington spotted Charles boarding the ocean liner and ended right up to the film’s last flickering moment when a reconciled Charles and Jean kicked Mugsy out of her stateroom.

Some of my favorite scenes from the movie included the following:

*Jean’s criticisms of many other female passengers, determined to seduce poor Charles in some of the most hilarious and awkward ways ever conceived;.

*Jean’s seduction of Charles inside her stateroom;

*Mr. Pike’s (Eugene Pallette) frustration at the lack of a breakfast prepared for him;

*Mugsy’s attempts to determine whether Lady Eve Sidwich and Jean Harrington are ”the same dame”, during the Pikes’ dinner party for their aristocratic guests;

*Charles’ many pratfalls that threatened to ruin the dinner party;

*Lady Eve’s revelation of her less than virginal past with a score of men to a very stunned Charles during their honeymoon aboard a train

Naturally, I have to speak about the cast. Sturges filled it with some first-rate performers – whether they were character actors with minor roles that did not require any lines (think of the numerous shipboard females that attempted and failed to woo Charles Pike), or the two leads – Stanwyck and Fonda. There were certain performances that caught my eye. William Demarest was a hoot as Mugsy, Charles’ paranoid and very faithful retainer, whose suspicions of Jean as the Lady Eve provided some of the funniest moments in the film’s second half. Eugene Pallette was equally funny as the gruff Horace Pike, who seemed incapable of understanding his shy and scholarly son. And Charles Coburn made a cool Colonel Harrington, a card sharp who is also shrewd enough to gauge his daughter Jean’s feelings for Charles. And Eric Blore portrayed a deliciously over-the-top Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith, a fellow con artist of the Harringtons, who is recruited by Jean to portray her relative during her Lady Eve impersonation.

But this movie obviously belonged Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda as the two lovers – Jean Harrington and Charles Pike. Her Jean is so deliciously manipulative, yet passionate when she first falls for Charles. And Charles Pike has to be one of Fonda’s funniest role in his long career. Watching him struggle and fail to resist Jean’s charms filled me with a lot of laughs, along with his series of pratfalls during the sequence that featured the Pikes’ dinner party. Stanwyck and Fonda first worked together in the 1938 comedy mystery, ”THE MAD MISS MENTON”. In both ”MISS MENTON” and ”THE LADY EVE”, it seemed quite apparent that they truly enjoyed working together.

Monckton Hoffe had received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story. This is the only Academy Award nomination that the film had received, I find that a criminal oversight on the part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The New York Times had voted ”THE LADY EVE” as one of the ”10 Best Films of 1941”. The movie industry and the media in 1941 had vastly underrated the quality of this film, as far as I am concerned. Personally, I believe that it is one of the best movie comedies ever made. Period.