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Film / Anthony Adverse

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Anthony Adverse is a 1936 period drama film directed by Mervyn LeRoy, starring Fredric March, Olivia de Havilland, and Claude Rains. It is based on a Doorstopper novel by Hervey Allen, and is set in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, during the Napoleonic era in Europe.

Anthony Adverse is the product of an illicit affair between Maria Bonnyfeather, a young wife, and her lover Denis. Maria's arrogant husband, Spanish nobleman Don Luis (Rains), kills Denis in a duel, and Maria dies in childbirth. Don Luis dumps the baby off at a Catholic girl's school. Eventually, and by sheer coincidence, Anthony (played as an adult by March) is sent to be an apprentice at his own grandfather's mercantile business. Mr. Bonnyfeather realizes the truth of Anthony's parentage but doesn't tell him. His scheming housekeeper, Faith (Gale Sondergaard), who stands to inherit the Bonnyfeather estate if not for Anthony, encourages Bonnyfeather to keep the secret. Anthony becomes his grandfather's most trusted employee. He falls in love with Angela, a cook's daughter (de Havilland), but fate and tragedy conspire to separate them again and again.

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Anthony Adverse was not a typical production for its studio, Warner Bros., which usually avoided stiff, dull costume dramas like this for gangster films and biopics. Despite being stiff and dull, it was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four, including the first-ever Best Supporting Actress award (for Sondergaard). The score was written by one of the most famous film composers ever, Erich Wolfgang Korngold.


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Tropes:

  • As You Know: Expository dialogue establishes that Maria is a commoner and Don Luis is the Spanish envoy to France.
  • Auction of Evil: Anthony hits his moral bottom in the scene where his company is conducting a slave auction in Africa.
  • Bedlah Babe: Carlo Cibo, Bonnyfeather's man in Havana, has a dancer dressed like this at his house.
  • Benevolent Boss: Mr. Bonnyfeather is kindly and paternal even before finding out that Anthony is his grandson.
  • Blackface: Something is used to darken white actress Steffi Duna's skin to make her look more like an African woman.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Of all the places young Anthony could have been sent to be an apprentice, he gets sent to his grandfather's business.
    • Of all the people for Anthony to see when he's arrested upon suspicion of being a spy, and taken to Napoleon's headquarters, he sees his best friend Nolte, who just happens to be there.
  • Costume Drama / Costume Porn: Lots of frilly dresses, elaborate suits, fancy hats. To be expected in a film set in Europe during the early Napoleonic Era.
  • Dances and Balls: Anthony and Angela are reunited for the last time after she spots him at a fancy masked ball being given for Napoleon.
  • Deus ex Machina / Diabolus ex Machina: Depending upon how you look at it. But Angela and Anthony are separated for the first time when her father wins the lottery and moves the family away.
  • Death by Childbirth: The Plot Reaper strikes in order to make Anthony an orphan that Luis can abandon.
  • Doorstop Baby: Anthony is left in the baby door at a Catholic girls' school.
  • Flynning: A classic example with the dramatic sword duel between Denis and Luis.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Something very like this happens to Anthony when he decides to make good Bonnyfeather's debt, and thus free himself to reunite with Angela, by becoming a slave trader. He later turns good again.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Angela is Napoleon Bonaparte's lover.
  • Karma Houdini: Surprisingly, and especially surprisingly for a film made in this era, nothing bad ever happens to villains Faith and Don Luis. Faith loses the Bonnyfeather inheritance when Anthony finally returns, but enjoys a soft landing when she strongarms Don Luis into marrying her. Don Luis, for his part, never suffers any consequences for killing Anthony's father, separating Anthony from his grandfather, or trying to kill Anthony.
  • The Mistress: The ending reveals that Angela is this for Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: The Virgin Mary statuette that is passed down from Maria to Anthony. Unusually for this trope, it pays off in the first act, when Bonnyfeather sees it and realizes Anthony is his grandson.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Anthony and Angela can't catch a break. First they are separated when her father wins the lottery. Then they are separated when Anthony is delayed and misses a rendezvous with Angela (and her note blows away in the wind) before his departure for Cuba. Then they are separated for good when he finds her only to discover she's Napoleon's mistress.
  • Trophy Wife: Maria is clearly this for older, wealthy Don Luis, and she isn't happy about it.
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