Arts Express: At The Turner Classic Film Festival

In a continuing series for Arts Express, Penelope Andrew has been covering this year’s second annual Turner Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, 28th of April through May 1st. Last year, the first TCM Classic Film Festival was held at the Chinese Theater and Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles. The TCM Festival honors the enduring legacy of Hollywood stars and early films, and featured celebrity appearances and screenings of nearly fifty movie classics. Including several newly restored by The Film Foundation, an organization engaged in preserving Hollywood’s film legacy.

Rare Print of The Constant Nymph (1943) Screens at TCM Film Festival

by Penelope Andrew

Directed by Edmund Goulding (Grand Hotel, Dark Victory), adapted from a novel and play by Margaret Kennedy, and scored by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, The Constant Nymph more than fulfilled the mission of this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival in celebrating the vital role that music plays in the art of filmmaking. The film stars Charles Boyer, Alexis Smith, and Joan Fontaine, who are involved in a unique love triangle. A much older composer, Boyer’s Lewis Dodd, takes for granted his spiritual bond to the sensitive, ethereal daughter of his mentor played by Fontaine’s Tessa Sanger.

Not since Jennifer Jones’s turn as a schoolgirl-opposite Joseph Cotten’s struggling artist, Eben Adams-in Portrait of Jennie (1948) has an audience suspended disbelief and surrendered so totally to such a wildly romantic portrayal of a 14-year-old by an adult actress. Fontaine’s effervescent portrait of adolescent innocence and the belief in the power of (unrequited) love and art brought the Oscar-winning actress her final Academy Award nomination. Tessa is a muse for Lewis, who would have otherwise never created his magnum opus, a stunning symphonic poem composed by Korngold, which heightens the otherworldliness of this rare film.

Robert Osborne, TCM’s prime-time host, introduced the film that, “we’ve actually been looking for-to try to get the rights-to show on TCM since we went on the air almost 18 years ago. It’s one of those elusive films tied up legally” for decades. Warner Bros. produced The Constant Nymph in 1943, allowing the rights to expire in 1948, which they never renewed, and “then, they forgot about it,” he told the audience.

“When television came along, no one was particularly interested in a black-and-white film starring Charles Boyer, Joan Fontaine, and Alexis Smith,” said Osborne. “It wasn’t Technicolor and it didn’t have John Wayne in it.” Besides the three principle cast members, the film features the wonderful character actors Peter Lorre, Charles Coburn, and Dame May Witty. The film occasionally slipped through “illegally,” on the small screen in a bundle of Warner titles sold to broadcast affiliates.

Interest in Fontaine Persists

Profound interest in Joan Fontaine-best known for Rebecca, Suspicion, Jane Eyre, and Letter from an Unknown Woman-has not waned over the years. At a 10:00 a.m. screening, the morning after a late-night Vanity Fair party, Grauman’s Chinese Multiplex One on Hollywood Boulevard was packed with cinephiles eager to experience a film they’d never seen before.

Osborne explained why viewers haven’t seen Fontaine, who lives in Carmel, California, interviewed on the network or at the festival. “We’ve been asked, did you invite Joan Fontaine to the screening?” TCM’s crackerjack programming team pursued the actress only to learn she has lost interest in appearing publicly and in “coming to screenings in Hollywood.” “We are not avoiding Joan Fontaine,” he declared, “we love Joan Fontaine….You’ll have to judge for yourselves, but I think that [she] gives one of the greatest performances of her career.”


Coming Soon to TCM

Film enthusiasts, who missed the four-day festival, will be happy to learn that, according to Osborne, “We do have the rights now to show it on TCM.” A DVD release of The Constant Nymph is expected for release within the year. Ironically, there was talk around the festival that Fontaine’s older sister, two-time, Oscar-winner, Olivia de Havilland (Gone with the Wind, The Heiress), has accepted an invitation to appear at next year’s event.

Penelope Andrew writes for The Huffington Post, WestView News, Bright Lights Film Journal, Critical Women On Film and Arts Express Syndicate. She is a member of The Women Film Critics Circle.