Production Company: Warner Bros.
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Top Billed Actors: Fredric March, Olivia de Havilland, Donald Woods
Won 4 Oscars:
Best Supporting Actress - Gale Sondergaard
Best Original Score - Warner Bros. Studio Music Dept. (score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold)
Best Cinematography - Tony Gaudio
Best Film Editing - Ralph Dawson
Nominated for 3 more:
Best Art Direction - Anton Grot
Best Assistant Director - William Cannon
Plot: An orphan grows up and has too many adventures and has to deal with too many devious women.
So what's going on here? Why the disconnect of the number of Oscars and generally negative reviews? I hope to explain why the movie was applauded at the time. The performance by the lead, Fredric March, is akin to his first Oscar win, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932). He shows a wide range as he portrays love and happiness, then bitterness and despair so wonderfully. It's a wonder why he wasn't nominated for the Best Actor award. The two Oscars that are apparent to why this was revered are for the Score and Cinematography. Korngold's score is unrelenting and make the movie bearable in the dull moments and downright exciting in the great moments. It sets the tone and sometimes even drives the story. For the time, it was ambitious and it is very listenable to today's audience. The camera-work was rightly commended at the Oscars and it's not difficult to see why. The advantage of going through this Project chronologically is that I can see the progression of filmmaking over time. The pans and zoom-ins and zoom-outs are meaningful as well as a breath of fresh air due to the mostly static cinematography of the time period.
Now why the low scores on film review sites? The biggest issue is the adaptation of the original source material. I have not read the novel, but the general consensus is that the film gets it completely wrong. I can't speak to the similarities and differences, but I can speak to how disjointed the narrative is. The opening scenes put the viewer right into a melodramatic situation. I actually had to check a plot description online after the first ten minutes to see if I was watching the right movie because it felt like I was watching the conclusion to a movie that resulted in a fatal love triangle. All it did was set up why Anthony Adverse was an orphan and his relationship with Don Luis. One of the thirty (exaggerated) title cards could have explained this without so much time invested before Anthony's birth. The jaggedness comes from those aforementioned title cards. A few scenes occur, then a block of text explains two to three years at a time. Then we have to take in a new set with new characters and circumstances all over again. It's challenging to the viewer, but not in a rewarding way.
Overall, the acting, music, and cinematography isn't enough to rise the movie out of the doldrums of the overly-long narrative that feels choppy, disjointed, and overly melodramatic.
My Score: 6/10