March 28, 2015

Joan Fontaine, The Constant Nymph

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The Role: As a lovestruck schoolgirl with hastily-timed heart problems, we once again find Joan Fontaine playing up the innocuous, doe-eyed girl schtick. As is to be expected, Tessa is essentially cut from the same meekish, breathy cloth as Lina and the second Mrs. de Winter, perhaps the only difference being that she is literally called a "girl" frequently in the film by a number of other characters, and the more luxe wardrobe pieces in Rebecca and Suspicion are replaced with braids and schoolgirl outfits.

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What I Didn't Like: As with many other 1940s melodramas, this one is a bit of a mess. I'm not a big believer in Charles Boyer's ability to be a romantic interest--perhaps it's that strong accent of his, but I'm often more annoyed by him than intrigued. The chemistry between Boyer and Fontaine leaves a lot to be desired, and often times it feels much too forced to believe. Fontaine herself dips in and out of the flick, and it's kind of easy to forget about her when you've got a hungry Alexis Smith clawing her way through scenes for one's attention. Fontaine's performance also ends on a note that left me laughing even though it's totally not meant to evoke humor.

 photo 0.pngWhat I Liked: Regardless, whenever the camera is on Fontaine, she capitalizes. What she does in the film might not be a stretch from what we've seen before, but she acts on the usual business quite well. At 25 years of age Fontaine is obviously too old to be a schoolgirl, but it never read as inappropriate or untrue on screen. That's because Fontaine is wholly believable as tender and innocent, it sort of seems second nature for her--such that her victimizing by Smith or all that emotional dreckish dialogue she's got to navigate in pronouncing her love for Lewis over and over again at least comes off as genuine. In fact, her acting is just about the only genuine thing in a film and script that is often wtf-worthy, so Fontaine certainly elevates a dodgy flick. What's more, I found myself really, truly feeling for Tessa, ("why can't it just work out for her?!" I thought to myself) which doesn't happen too often for me with 40's films, so to have gotten me invested in a character is a testament to this actress' underrated abilities. All the emotional scenes Fontaine is faced with towards the latter half of the film she ends up nailing, and upon the film's finish, even though I was glad the movie was over I couldn't deny that Fontaine had made it an overall better viewing experience, that she had succeeded my expectations. This would be Fontaine's final nomination despite the fact that she would put out a couple more high-profile and acclaimed performances throughout the decade, suggesting that the Academy had grown less excited by her after '43, but I can at least say that I've left this film on a positive note, more intrigued by her capabilities.

**A big fat thank you to GM for graciously sending me higher-res photos of Joan!
*If you couldn't already tell, I'm trying to toy around with some new formats for posts. I might awkwardly stumble through a few different formats and structures before finding the right one, so please bare with me!


  1. Haven't seen this either.

    The 4 Oscars are a bit more than I would've expected.

    1. You and me both :)

      I wouldn't actively recommend that you watch this now, but Fontaine does make it watchable and a little more bearable.

  2. I really liked her in this, she was so engaging and charming at the beginning and never turned it into melodrama.

    1. My thought's exactly! It all could have come off very poorly but she pulls it all together well.

  3. Sad that it's the last time you'll be reviewing a performance by her, she has so much more to offer.

  4. Sad that it's the last time you'll be reviewing a performance by her, she has so much more to offer.