Monday, June 17, 2013


This week Turner Classic Movies is showing Devotion(1948), a highly fictionalized yet very entertaining story of literary legends, sisters Emily and Charlotte Brontë. The story begins with the Bronte siblings, Emily (Ida Lupino) Charlotte (Olivia de Havilland) Anne (Nancy Coleman) and Branwell (Arthur Kennedy) spending a day out on the moors. Kennedy's Branwell Bronte is a tortured, darkly cynical, self defeating alcoholic, living in the shadow of his more driven sisters. Lupino plays Emily as stoic, practical and shy about her work. She is haunted by dreams of a dark, mysterious stranger on horseback riding the moors. De Havilland plays Charlotte as the driven, ambitious romantic who dreams of literary success for her and Emily. Younger sister Anne is the perky sister played by perky Nancy Coleman.

L to R: Olivia de Havilland, Ida Lupino and Nancy Coleman as the Bronte Sisters in Devotion
Enter Paul Henried as Reverend Nicholls. Emily and Nicholls strike up a friendship but to Emily it's more than that. They roam the moors and she takes him to the foot of a hillside where stands a dark, abandoned house. Emily is haunted, yet attracted to the site, which she has named "Wuthering Heights". Over time, she becomes more infatuated with Nicholls. Not long after, Emily's siblings return home. One night, Nicholls escorts the three sisters to a party thrown by one of the town elites. Nicholls is immediately attracted to Charlotte, but the feelings are not reciprocated. There is a wonderful scene where the three sisters, all in a row, pull out their fans, flip them open, smile, (all in unison) and enter a huge ballroom, chomping at the bit to do some dancing.  Charlotte is not deterred by Nicholls' advances. She is trying to save money for her and Emily to go to Brussels to teach English in return for an education at the school.

Olivia de Havilland, Arthur Kennedy and Nancy Coleman out on the Moors in Devotion
Once in Brussels, a lovesick Emily pines for Nicholls and the moors. Charlotte meanwhile has become swept off her feet by a married professor. During this time, both sisters work on their novels....Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. After a bout of disillusionment, Charlotte returns home and reevaluates Nicholls as Emily helplessly watches. There is a great scene between Emily and Kennedy when he deduces from his sisters novels that they are both in love with the same man. To one Nicholls is Rochester, to the other, he is Heathcliff. Eventually, Nicholls realizes that the developing triangle can not continue and their relationship ends badly.  Charlotte, in a great scene, looks at her manuscript for Jane Eyre and says to Emily--"I know nothing. I understand nothing. Yet I have dared to write two hundred thousand words about life."

Bedtime for the Brontë's

This is a great, moody, gothic love story as well as being one of my favorite Ida Lupino films(coming in just a few films below The Hard Way). The film is enjoyable enough that you really don't care about the staggering amount of historical inaccuracies. It starts off with rather disjointed pacing but it suddenly gels about a quarter of the way in and really takes off. It has a wonderfully complex musical score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The films photography looks great. My only nitpick is that the scenes on the moors are done on soundstage. These scenes would have benefited nicely from some location shooting.

Ida Lupino and Arthur Kennedy in Devotion

While I enjoyed the love story elements, the thing that I enjoyed the most was the relationship between the sisters and between Kennedy and Lupino. Lupino understands the brother in a way that none of the other family does. Kennedy is great as the drunk, dark, brooding and tortured artist. He knows he's doomed and so does Lupino. But it’s that understanding and acceptance of each other and their fates that only they share that I found fascinating. Also adding to the enjoyment is Sidney Greenstreet as William Makepeace Thackeray. There is a funny scene when Greenstreet comes out of a book signing with De Havilland. A man says "Hello Thackeray" and Greenstreet replies "Hello Dickens". De Havilland is upset that Greenstreet doesn't introduce her. Greenstreet responds...."I shouldn't like you to get involved with that kind of riff raff my dear".
The Brontë nightshirt competition.  My money's on Ida.
Devotion was actually filmed in 43. However, De Havilland was in a contract dispute with Warners that lasted three years. During the dispute, Warners shelved the film, not wanting to give De Havilland any positive press. De Havilland won her case and was released from her contract with Warners. She then went on to do To Each His Own (1946) for Paramount for which she won a best actress Oscar. Wanting to cash in on that success, Warners then released Devotion.

Turner Classic Movies will be showing Devotion on Wednesday at 2:45 pm Eastern. Don’t miss it!

No comments:

Post a Comment