Devotion (1946) starring Olivia de Havilland, Ida Lupino & Paul Henreid

devotion_moors
On the moors: Bramwell (Arthur Kennedy), Emily (Ida Lupino), and Charlotte (Olivia de Havilland) Bronte

I’m certainly relishing the idea of living a century. Can you imagine that? What an achievement!  -Olivia de Havilland

Devotion, filmed in 1943, but released in 1946, has some real-life drama behind it.  Olivia de Havilland is an actress w/ a goody-goody public image, BUT she waged a 2 yr. legal battle against Warner Bros. over extending her contract for time she spent on suspension (for refusing a handful roles that she felt were too small and unsuitable to her talents). She won the case in California’s Supreme Court and went on to freelance, making two films for Paramount.

MOST of you know de Havilland as Melanie Wilkes, the cousin/wife of Scarlett O’Hara’s first love, Ashley Wilkes, in Gone with the Wind.  Others may know her as the lady love of MANY different characters played by the swash-buckling Errol Flynn in 8 films (early in her career).  Olivia and her sister, actress Joan Fontaine, had a VERY combative relationship for most of their life. 

Ida Lupino (who is simply fabulous in Devotion w/ real-life close friend, Paul Henreid) was ALSO a trailblazer in Hollywood.  She was one of the first women to be inducted into the Director’s Guild of America.  Her paternal ancestors came from Bologna, Italy to England, from where she sailed to the US at age 15 to begin her own career.      

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Emily wants to stay at home; Charlotte yearns for travel.

This film showed some of the biographical background that would shape Charlotte’s (Olivia de Haviland’s) and Emily’s (Ida Lupino’s) fiction.  Emily’s loved the wild moors, which would translate into her imagery for Heathcliff and Cathy Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights.  Charlotte had an infatuation with a foreign tutor she knew in Belgium (played by Belgian actor Victor Francen) which is used in creating the character of Paul in Villette.  Anne (Nancy Coleman), who wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, doesn’t have much to do in this film. 

devotion_ball
The Bronte sisters with Rev. Arthur Nicholls (Paul Henreid) at a ball.

I’ve seen this film several times in my life. Each time I saw it, my heart broke anew for Emily Bronte. Miss Lupino’s performance was nothing short of wonderful. She truly conveyed the feelings of unrequited love.  -IMDB comment

The fiction is tied to a ruthless streak in Charlotte at her (perhaps more talented sister’s expense), especially over Reverend Nicholls (Austrian actor Paul Henreid from Casablanca).  In reality, Emily never yearned for Nicholls, or any man Charlotte liked.  Branwell (a young Arthur Kennedy, noted character actor in Westerns) is closest to Emily of all the siblings.  He tries to support her, but he becomes a drunk after failing to get a foothold in London b/c he doesn’t have any connections or much money.  (The Bronte’s father was a minister in a small/secluded town in Yorkshire.) 

Many literary critics consider Branwell as part of the inspiration behind Catherine’s older brother, Hindley Earnshaw, who becomes a drunk and gambler while away at college in Wuthering Heights.

Branwell was talented and educated, and had high hopes of success in the arts.  In fact, he planned to travel to London (and may have done so) to apply for the Royal Academy in 1834/1835.  His high hopes disappeared as he moved from job to job and scandal to scandal.  He wasted his life in drinking and drug-taking and was going through some of his worst situations when Emily was writing her novel.  It is likely that she based much of the degradation of Hindley on observations and experiences with the decline of her brother.  The Reader’s Guide to Wuthering Heights

devotion_sisters
Nancy Coleman (right), who played Anne Bronte, was model for Disney’s Snow White.

 

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Disney’s Snow White with her forest friends.

In the last act of the film, Vanity Fair novelist, William Makepeace Thackeray (Sidney Greenstreet) escorts Charlotte around London, lending her his social prestige. However, he is more impressed by Emily’s writing (which is more imaginative and powerful) while Charlotte’s work is more polite.  Thackeray’s social snobbery comes out when he sneers at street kids in the East End (Not my public!), and when he warns Charlotte against Charles Dickens.

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