Saturday, August 20, 2011

Joan Fontaine in The Constant Nymph


Joan Fontaine received her third and last Oscar nomination for playing Tessa Sanger, a teenager falling in love with a composer in The Constant Nymph, the favorite movie of hers. In my humble opinion, Joan could have been third, fourth or even fifth. I guess she was fifth as Greer Garson might have had some leftover love after Mrs. Miniver plus Madame Curie was a Best Picture nominee while The Constant Nymph was not. However, Joan was at the peak of her career in the early fourties so who knows? This one remains a mystery for sure.

The question about The Constant Nymph is not the usual "How did you like it?" but "How did you get it?". Well yeah, this movie is among the most hard-to-find Best Actress movies (it's probably the second on the list after The Blue Veil"). Everybody who's lucky enough to see it, can watch only very awful copies. However, it's quite a good film and it's much more surprising than one would imagine. I really liked Charles Boyer and although he's doing his routine, he's quite good here. The supporting cast is also quite good in this movie. All in all, I must say that I enjoyed this movie though I probably wouldn't watch it again.

Joan Fontaine, in my opinion, is a very interesting actress who always gives very special performances. I prefer her to her sister and big rival Olivia as Joan's performances always seem to be much more honest and less fake. I always enjoy Joan's presence on the screen even when she's not given a very rich character to work with (like in Suspicion). It's sad that Joan is not that frequently talked about nowadays even though she would deserve to be. Whenever Joan comes to my mind, I always think that she's able to give such rich performances. She fills very uninteresting characters with life and she's able to turn in wonderful works. In Rebecca, her unspectacular character turned out to be full of layers and she really rocked in that part.

Because of these reasons (and the fact that this was Joan's favorite movie of hers), I was quite optimistic about The Constant Nymph and was really looking forward to watching it. You know, when I read the story, I didn't think "another 1940s romantic movie with a young girl hopelessly falling for an older man". I though "Wow! Joan Fontaine must be great in this one (and she is). Yes, the story (and once again, the character) is not that interesting at first sight. Tessa is just a fourteen-year-old who's crazy about a handsome composer, Lewis (played by Charles Boyer). Alhtough her love marries her cousin, there's still a special relationship between Tessa and Lewis.

Honestly, I hate when adults play teenagers but 1943 has caused me to get rid of my prejudices as not one but two actresses gave excellent performances as teenagers. While Jennifer Jones had a very epic role in The Song of Bernadette, Joan's character is somewhat different. However, there's a common thing in their performances that neither of them overplays the childlike aspects of the characters. Joan could have fallen into that trap much easier than Jennifer as Joan's character had many of the traits of young girls. She's giggling, she blushes because of the sight of a man and such things. With Joan, it's all really believable.

The chemistry between Charles Boyer and Joan Fontaine was crucial to the story and it worked. They seem like the perfect hopeless lovers and I actually felt sorry for them. Although it's Joan who's the emotional centre of the film, Boyer adds his own to the story. Whenever I saw Joan, it was just fine the way it was and I was simply charmed by her presence. Her scenes with Boyer (as a result) were really likeable and I thought that neither of them overdid them. This is another thing I admire about Joan: she never really overplays the sentimentality of her characters.

Joan plays the ending excellently. I was kind of surprised by it and Tessa's last scenes were really impressive for me. I was taken by the emotions and I felt truly sorry for her. However, it was never too soappy or sentimental (at least not more than it had to be).

So to sum up, I wouldn't say that this is a pleasant surprise because I expected this but I was really impressed by Joan Fontaine's performance as Tessa. Although this is neither groundbreaking nor amazing work, I enjoyed every minute of it. Joan never fails to make Tessa a sympathetic character and I liked the character overall.

What do you think?

6 comments:

Derek Bowman said...

She's such an interesting actress, I'd definitely like to watch more with her in it.

dinasztie said...

Yes, she's great in this one but I feel as if I haven't seen this movie. She's great, though. :)

Sage Slowdive said...

It's an odd performance, but I really loved her here.

dinasztie said...

Well, I liked her but didn't exactly love her. She's most certainly odd here.

panavia999 said...

I think Fontaine played a teenager very well. A teenage actress probably couldn't have done the love part as well without seeming more infatuated. Fontaine's performance is an excellent balance. The character is supposed to be very young and innocent, yet somehow acquired a natural maturity or wisdom by her bohemian upbringing and longstanding love for Lewis. It has to be delicately handled or it just seems weird. It's certainly believable in the book, and conveyed very cleverly in the film despite the Hollywood Code.
Fontaine also played a teenager in the beginning of "Letter from an Unknown Woman" to great effect and she was even older! She transitions well from love struck girl to mature woman beautifully.

wildenant said...

Someone should have menioned FRANKIE AND JOHNNY. She was superb in that. In Grease 2 she was a goddess come to earth before our eyes, making it compulsively watchable.