Anthony Adverse

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Anthony Adverse
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Jack L. Warner
Screenplay bySheridan Gibney
Milton Krims
Based onAnthony Adverse
1933 novel
by Hervey Allen
Starring Fredric March
Olivia de Havilland
Gale Sondergaard
Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Cinematography Tony Gaudio
Edited by Ralph Dawson
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • July 29, 1936 (1936-07-29)
(Los Angeles) [1]
  • August 29, 1936 (1936-08-29)(US)
Running time
141 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1,192,000 [2]
Box office$2,750,000 [2]

Anthony Adverse is a 1936 American epic historical drama film directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring Fredric March and Olivia de Havilland. The screenplay by Sheridan Gibney draws elements of its plot from eight of the nine books in Hervey Allen's enormous historical novel, Anthony Adverse. Abandoned at a convent as an infant, Anthony comes of age in the tumultuous turn of the 18th to the 19th century, the age of Napoleon. The audience is privy to many truths in Anthony's life, including the tragic story of his origins and the fact that the wealthy merchant who adopts him is his grandfather. Most important of all, Anthony believes that his beloved Angela abandoned him without a word, when in fact she left a note telling him that the theatrical troupe was going to Rome. The gust of wind that blows the note away is one of many fateful and fatal events in Anthony's story.


The film received four Academy Awards, including the inaugural Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, given to Gale Sondergaard for her performance as the villainous Faith Paleologus.


In 1773, young Scottish beauty Maria Bonnyfeather (Anita Louise) is the new bride of the cruel and devious middle-aged Spanish nobleman Marquis Don Luis (Claude Rains). Don Luis suffers horribly from gout, so the consummation of their marriage must be postponed until his cure at a famous spa is complete. Meanwhile, Maria's true love, Denis Moore (Louis Hayward), the man she loved before being forced to marry Don Luis, follows them and stays near the château where they are living. While the marquis is away taking the cure, they contrive to meet in the woods, and after 3 months Maria tells him she is carrying his child. The marquis returns home, cured, and Maria is horrified at what awaits her. The lovers plan to flee that night, but the marquis discovers Maria waiting for Denis. Don Luis takes her across Europe, but Denis at last tracks them down at an inn, where Don Luis treacherously kills him in a sword duel.

Months later, Maria dies giving birth to her son at a chalet in the Alps in northern Italy. Don Luis leaves the infant in the foundling wheel of a convent near the port city of Leghorn (Livorno), Italy, where the nuns christen him Anthony because he was found on January 17, the feast day of St. Anthony the Great. Don Luis lies to Maria's father, wealthy Leghorn-based merchant John Bonnyfeather (Edmund Gwenn), telling him that the infant is also dead. Ten years later, completely by coincidence, Anthony (Billy Mauch) is apprenticed to Bonnyfeather, his real grandfather, who discovers his relationship to the boy but keeps it a secret from him. The only explanation for Don Luis’ behavior is that Maria's child was illegitimate, and Bonnyfeather cannot bear to have his daughter—or his grandson—bear that stigma. He gives the boy the surname Adverse in acknowledgement of the difficult life he has led.

From his arrival at Bonnyfeather's Anthony and the cook's daughter, Angela Guisseppi [3] are attracted to each other, and as they grow they fall in love. Angela (Olivia de Havilland) has ambitions to become a great singer. Anthony (Fredric March) wants to serve Bonnyfeather and marry Angela, but fate intervenes. Angela's father wins the lottery and the family leaves Leghorn. Years later, Anthony finds her, singing professionally, in the opera chorus. Eventually, the couple wed. Soon after the ceremony, Anthony is asked by Bonnyfeather to depart for Havana to save Bonnyfeather's fortune from a laggard debtor, the merchant trading firm Gallego & Sons. On the day his ship is supposed to set sail, he and Angela are supposed to meet at the convent before departing together, but she arrives first, and he is late. Unable to wait any longer, she leaves a note outside the convent to inform him that she is leaving for Rome with her opera company. But the note Angela leaves for Anthony is blown away, and he is unaware that she has gone to Rome. Confused and upset, he sails without her. Meanwhile, assuming he has abandoned her, she departs and continues her career as an opera singer.

Learning that Gallego has quit Havana, Anthony leaves to take control of Gallego & Sons' only remaining asseta slave trading post on the Pongo River in Africa. Three years in the slave trade (so he can recover Bonnyfeather's debt) corrupts him, and he takes slave girl Neleta into his bed. Anthony eventually is redeemed by his friendship with Brother François (Pedro de Cordoba). After the monk is crucified and killed by the natives, Anthony returns to Italy to find Bonnyfeather has died. His housekeeper, Faith Paleologus (Gale Sondergaard) (Don Luis' longtime co-conspirator and now wife), has inherited Bonnyfeather's fortune. Anthony goes to Paris to rectify the situation and claim his inheritance.

In Paris, Anthony is reunited with his friend, prominent banker Vincent Nolte (Donald Woods), whom he saves from bankruptcy by loaning him his entire fortune, having learned from Brother François that "there's something besides money and power".

All Paris is buzzing with gossip about Mademoiselle Georges, the famous opera star and mistress of Napoleon Bonaparte, [4] and the magnificent diamond necklace he has given to her, although Josephine wanted it.

Through the intercession of impresario Debrulle (Ralph Morgan), Anthony is reunited with Angela and discovers that she bore him a son. They spend a blissful day or two together. Angela tells him that she is singing at the opera and he goes with Nolte to hear her. He searches the program in vain for her name, but then he hears her voice coming from the stage. He exclaims, “that’s Angela” and Nolte replies, “That’s Mademoiselle Georges!” Angela continues the aria and emerges from the shadows, descending a long staircase. Her voice is superb, she is magnificently costumed—and she is wearing Napoleon's gift. She whispers “Goodbye, Anthony,” as he stands and leaves the box.

Shaken, he returns home to find that she has sent him their son, with a letter stating that he is better suited to raise the boy, and apologizing for not seeing him again. Anthony departs for America with his son, Anthony Adverse (Scotty Beckett), in search of a better life.



Mervyn LeRoy (seated right) directing March and De Havilland; behind LeRoy is cinematographer Tony Gaudio Filming on set of Anthony Adverse, 1936.jpeg
Mervyn LeRoy (seated right) directing March and De Havilland; behind LeRoy is cinematographer Tony Gaudio

Before casting Frederic March to costar with Olivia de Havilland, Warner Bros. considered Robert Donat, Leslie Howard, and George Brent for the title role. [5] The studio during preproduction also intended to cast Errol Flynn in support of March, but Flynn became so popular with moviegoers after his performance in Captain Blood in 1935 that Warner Bros. assigned him to star instead in the 1936 film The Charge of the Light Brigade . [6]

Billy Mauch plays the young Anthony Adverse in the earlier scenes. Warner Bros. discovered Mauch had a twin, and it put them both under contract. They were given a starring vehicle in The Prince and the Pauper .


In his 1936 review, The New York Times critic Frank S. Nugent panned "Warner's gargantuan film":

Speaking for ourselves, we found it a bulky, rambling and indecisive photoplay which has not merely taken liberties with the letter of the original but with its spirit...For all its sprawling length, [the novel] was cohesive and well rounded. Most of its picaresque quality has been lost in the screen version; its philosophy is vague, its characterization blurred and its story so loosely knit and episodic that its telling seems interminable. A few years back we devoted the better part of a British week-end to the reading of Mr. Allen's little pamphlet and we enjoyed it. Yesterday we spent only a fraction more than two hours watching its progress on the screen and we squirmed like a small boy in Sunday school. [7]

Writing for The Spectator , Graham Greene expressed similar views, acerbically noting of the film that it "goes on too long, otherwise it might have been the funniest film since The Crusades ". [8] Variety described it as "a bit choppy" and "a bit long-winded" as well; but the popular trade magazine praised Fredric March's performance, adding that he was "an ace choice, playing the role to the hilt." [9] Film Daily wrote that Anthony Adverse "easily ranks among the leading pictures of the talking screen" and called the production's acting "flawless". [10] "I don't think Mr. March has done any better piece of work than this", noted John Mosher in his positive review for The New Yorker . [11]

The film was named one of the National Board of Review's Top Ten pictures of the year and ranked eighth in the Film Daily annual critics' poll. [12] In a much later review, however, Reverend Austin Spencer also found the film adaptation—when compared to the novel—inadequate, especially in its portrayal of the personal challenges that confronted the story's protagonist:

In the book as written and published, Anthony Adverse's far-ranging life was clearly intended to be a spiritual journey at least as much as a physical one. Befitting with his name, he goes through great adversity to emerge a better man - renouncing material possessions in general and the owning of slaves in particular, and aspiring with increasing success to emulate the saintly, martyred Brother François. In the film, all this was chopped off and amputated by cutting off the book's plotline in the middle. The film's Anthony Adverse is in effect denied the spiritual redemption which his literary creator intended for him. Possibly this was simply due to the fact that a normal length film could not accommodate so many adventures and changes of fortune over three continents. But I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the film-makers considered 'too much Christianity' as endangering a film's box office success. Anyway, I strongly recommend to anyone seeing the film to also read the book and find for themselves what they missed. [13]

On TCM, film critic Leonard Maltin gives the picture a positive review of 3.5/4 stars, praising the "Blockbuster filmization of Hervey Allen bestseller ... of young man gaining maturity through adventures in various parts of early 19th-century Europe, Cuba, and Africa" and the film's cinematography and "rousing musical score", both winners of Academy Awards. [14]

The film holds a 20% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 4.31/10. This is the lowest score of any Best Picture Oscar-nominated film on the website; yet, Rotten Tomatoes lists just ten reviews, so the cited score reflects only a relatively small sampling of critics. [15] [16]

Box office

The film was Warner Bros.' most popular release of 1936. It was also the studio's most expensive production that year, with an overall budget of $1,192,000. That hefty expense, however, proved to be a wise investment, for Anthony Adverse generated $1,558,000 in profits at the box office for Warner Bros., earning the studio $1,783,000 domestically and $967,000 in foreign markets. [2]

Academy Awards

Awards [17]

In culture

The initial theme of the second movement of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's violin concerto was drawn from the music he composed for the film. English singer Julia Gilbert adopted the name of the film's main character when recording for the London-based él record label in the late 1980s.

Screen legend Tony Curtis (1925–2010), who was born Bernard Schwartz, named himself for the titular character: The novel from which this film was adapted was the actor's favorite. Curtis, who was established as a star in The Prince Who Was a Thief (1951), was buried with a Stetson hat, an Armani scarf, driving gloves, an iPhone and a copy of his favorite novel Anthony Adverse.

Jack Benny parodied Anthony Adverse on the October 11 and 18 episodes of his "Jell-O Show" in 1936. [18]

In the 1934 short comedy What, No Men! , when their plane lands in "Indian Country" and Gus (El Brendel) is told to throw out the anchor, he tosses out a rope attached to a huge book titled Anthony Adverse.

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  1. Hanson, Patricia King, ed. (1993). The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films, 1931–1940. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 70. ISBN   0-520-07908-6.
  2. 1 2 3 Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 16 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  3. "Guessippi" in the novel, probably from Italian "Giuseppe", a first name.
  4. The historical character Marguerite Georges (nicknamed "Mademoiselle Georges") was indeed a famous actress and Napoleon's mistress in the years in which the plot of Anthony Adverse is set. She was, however, French and not Italian; and the documented facts about her life are very different from those of Angela in the novel and in this film adaptation.
  5. Scheuer, Philip K (October 4, 1934). "Walter Connolly Selected to Play Title Role in "Father Brown, Detective": Long Search for Correct Type Ends "Vampire of Prague" Lead Scheduled for Fay Webb". Los Angeles Times. p. 13.
  6. "Chaplin's Big Business: Goldwyn's Leading Lady: A New Romantic Hero" Bain, Greville. The Times of India [New Delhi] March 7, 1936: 9.
  7. Nugent, Frank (1936). "The Film Version of 'Anthony Adverse' Opens at the Strand – 'To Mary – With Love,' at the Paramount", film review, The New York Times, August 27, 1936; retrieved November 17, 2017.
  8. Greene, Graham (September 25, 1936). "The Song of Freedom/Anthony Adverse". The Spectator . (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome . pp.  103-104. ISBN   0192812866.)
  9. "Kauf." (1936). "Anthony Adverse", film review, Variety, New York, N.Y., September 2, 1936, page 18. Internet Archive, San Francisco, California; retrieved November 17, 2017.
  10. "'Anthony Adverse'", "Reviews of the New Films", The Daily Film, New York, N.Y., May 12, 1936, page 12. Internet Archive; retrieved November 17, 2017.
  11. Mosher, John (August 29, 1936). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker . p. 54.
  12. Anthony Adverse at Turner Classic Movies
  13. Rev. Austin James Spencer, "Christianity and Twentieth Century American Culture", p. 125, Spiritual Guidance Press, Kansas City, 1983
  14. "Anthony Adverse (1936) – Overview –". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  15. "Anthony Adverse". Rotten Tomatoes . Fandango Media . Retrieved April 8, 2018.
  16. The plot summary on Rotten Tomatoes is wrong. Anthony does not abandon his foster father's business. He goes to the Americas to restore the business.
  17. "The 9th Academy Awards (1937) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved February 14, 2013.
  18. Jack Benny's "Jell-O Show" "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 11, 2014. Retrieved July 16, 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)