Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943). Director: Edmund Goulding.

This is considered a "lost" film because the rights to the novel, play and subsequent film have all been dispersed and lost over the years. While not the masterpiece I was hoping for, The Constant Nymph is still a good picture with much to recommend it. Lewis Dodd (Charles Boyer) is a modern composer whose work is not very appreciated by the critical establishment. His old friend, the composer Albert Sanger (Montagu Love), thinks that Dodd's music lacks heart and soul and won't become really great until Dodd cries (the old business of the artist must suffer). Sanger has three daughters, one of whom, Tessa (Joan Fontaine) is unrequitedly in love with Lewis. Eventually, after old Sanger's death, Lewis marries Tessa's cousin Florence (Alexis Smith) while Tessa and her sisters are sent to boarding school. But Tessa and her soul mate Lewis won't stay apart for long, leading to painful and romantic complications. The movie is handsomely produced (it uses one of the sets from The Old Maid), well-directed and very well acted, but it's perhaps too talky and soapy for its own good. Some will find it more sappy than moving. Whatever the case, Fontaine gives an exemplary performance; Boyer is fine if a notch below Fontaine. Charles Coburn is his usual excellent self as the sisters' Uncle Charles, and Peter Lorre offers his usual distinctive persona as a man who courts and marries Tessa's sister, Toni, well-played by Brenda Marshall. But the big surprise is that utterly gorgeous Alexis Smith gives perhaps the finest performance of her career as Florence, who's desperately afraid of losing the only man she's ever seriously been in love with. She manages to summon up as much emotional fireworks as Davis and Crawford at their best without quite going over the top.

The movie has an interesting subtext of the war between romantic (melodious and emotional) and modern (dissonant and mathematical) music, and it's even more interesting that the film's excellent score was composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who composed operas in Vienna before fleeing the nazis and coming to America to "slum" for Hollywood. Korngold's music could be full of noisy, dissonant chords, but he decidedly composed in the romantic idiom. However, it wasn't realistic that Dodd's modern music would have been decried during the time the film takes place, as that's just when that type of music was becoming popular.

Verdict: A highly interesting curiosity. ***.