For Reel

Anthony Adverse (1936)
February 15, 2012, 7:32 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Mervyn LeRoy

Although its title is relatively obscure today, Anthony Adverse was a sensation in the mid-thirties. The twelve-hundred page goliath by Hervey Allen was one of the highest grossing novels of its decade. Warner Brothers found similar popular success in adapting it for the screen in 1936, which would garner the prestigious endeavor seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. The film, however, was not met with the same critical acclaim – Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times described it as “bulky, rambling, and indecisive”, and as such its reputation has faded over time. Indeed, it is clear that neither screenwriters Sheridan Gibney and Milton Grims nor director Mervyn LeRoy knew quite how to approach an adaptation of this size. Title cards and expositional speeches are used often to contextualize the events, and the film maneuvers so quickly through so much story that it becomes nearly incoherent. Within five minutes of screen time, for example, Fredric March, who plays the titular role, transforms from noble romantic into unruly slave trader. March isn’t particularly memorable in the role, but then again, who could be when the biggest and most revealing acting challenges have been cut for time? The film serves today as merely a curiosity of 1930s popular American culture, and, while it certainly represents Warner Brothers at its flashiest, it is an over-plotted mess.

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