For Reel

The Constant Nymph (1943)
March 12, 2016, 2:42 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Edmund Goulding
3 Stars
The Constant NymphJoan Fontaine often championed The Constant Nymph as the favorite film of her career, which is unsurprising given how it compares to the types of entertainments she was making at the time. Unlike the films she made with Hitchcock or forgettable supporting roles in pictures like Gunga Din, The Constant Nymph provided a very particular challenge in having the then 25-year-old play a bubbly young teen. If the performance plays as a distracting gimmick in the early goings–Fontaine’s exuberance might be a bit much, as she skips and hops around the house and squeals with glee–it is undeniable that there is a certain appeal in watching Fontaine self-consciously toy with her own image. Her feminity was often played as almost royal in her restraint, and just as she explored femme fatale roles in later years, here she embraces the innocent side of her screen image. Unfortunately, it’s about the only thing about The Constant Nymph that is memorable, particularly because only four years later Fontaine starred in another film that involved a woman’s infatuation with a man in Letter from an Unknown Woman. Director Edmund Goulding was a respectable director of melodramas (he was behind the camera in the women’s pictures that certified Bette Davis’ stardom), but as a storyteller he was rather literal. That the outdoor scenes play on a readily apparent soundstage is the exception that works to the film’s benefit–its false perfection resembling the dreams of the young protagonist. But as the love interest, Charles Boyer is miscast, given that Fontaine’s wholesome performance isn’t cohesive with Boyer’s cynical image. It is unthinkable that such a bouncy young woman would develop such an obsession with a passionless, even depressed musician. But there are nice moments here and there, the best of which tend to involve Alexis Smith as “the other woman” that Boyer marries and eventually regrets having done so. When Smith admits defeat, the scene plays as rather tidy but also as a tremendously sincere moment of empathy from one woman to another.

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