Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Devotion (1946)

Director: Curtis Burnhardt                              Writer: Keith Winter
Film Score: Erich Wolfgang Korngold              Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Starring: Olivia de Havilland, Ida Lupino, Paul Henreid and Arthur Kennedy

Warner Brothers’ story of the Brontë sisters is really just an excuse to listen to another brilliant score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. And, of course, to see Warners’ great stable of artists from the forties in action. It is rather incongruous, however, to see these Americans pretending to be the British literary royal family, the Brontë’s. Devotion is the story of Emily, Charlotte, and Ann and the real life adventures that inspired their classic novels. Dominating the screen, however, is the drunken, ne’er do well brother Bramwell. Unfortunately, there’s distinctly broad, over the top quality to the performances that, while not quite causing a wince, come close.

The story revolves around a love triangle between the two older sisters, Emily played by Ida Lupino, and Charlotte, played by Olivia de Havilland, and the new curate, Paul Henreid. When Henreid comes to the village de Havilland and Nancy Coleman, as Anne, are in London and he befriends Lupino. She naturally feels that they will eventually come to an “understanding.” But when he meets de Havilland he falls for her instantly, and Lupino channels her devastation into her novel. The film actually deals very little with the writing, and when it does it seems very superficial, as if it was more of a lark for them. The film actually becomes far less interesting after the sisters’ success and the confession of Henreid. Arthur Kennedy as Bramwell is a nuisance in an annoying way and engenders very little sympathy. And Sydney Greenstreet has a small role as William Thackeray, who champions the girls’ work.

The film is adequately directed. Burnhardt, who had stayed in Germany and then Paris until the beginning of World War II, never make any truly great films in Hollywood, but worked steadily. His next film, A Stolen Life, with Bette Davis is probably his most well known and the better of the two. The film score, by the great Erich Wolfgang Korngold, exhibits the composer's romantic / dramatic flair that he was known for but doesn’t dominate the proceedings. The title apparently refers to the love of the siblings for each other, but the story itself doesn’t really come off that way. de Havilland is a bit too ruthless to qualify. A better title might have been a Jane Austen parody, Selflessness and Selfishness, with Lupino playing the former and de Havilland the later. Ultimately, Devotion is a very melodramatic piece that is enjoyable for the stars and, of course, the music, but as a serious film about the literary Brontës it just seems too artificial to be great.

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