Anthony Adverse (1936)

Anthony Adverse
Fredric March and Olivia de Havilland

'Anthony Adverse' is a romantic costume drama film made in 1936, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring Fredric March, Olivia de Havilland, Gale Sondergaard and Claude Rains. Based on the 1933 bestselling novel of the same name by Hervey Allen, the movie was criticised as having a rambling, difficult plotline but it received seven Academy Award nominations, winning four Oscars, including Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actress for Gale Sondergaard (in the first year this Award had been made). It lost out for the Best Picture award to 'The Great Ziegfeld'.

Although perhaps overlong and rambling by today's standards, 'Anthony Adverse' still stands up very well, particularly because of its brilliant cast of main and supporting players. It is further improved by the wonderful Erich Wolfgang Korngold score and cinematography by Tony Gaudio. Both Korngold and Gaudio won Academy Awards for their efforts in the film.

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Screenplay writer Sheridan Gibney makes a manful effort at compressing the long, sometimes rambling storyline of the original novel but the movie plot also tends to ramble and meander and it is easy to lose track of the plot lines.

Anthony is played as a boy by Billy Mauch and as an adult by Fredric March. He is an illegitimate waif, raised by nuns and eventually adopted by a wealthy businessman, John Bonnyfeather played by Edmund Gwenn. Anthony grows up to be a responsible businessman and falls in love with the beautiful Angela Guiseppe, played by Olivia de Havilland. The story line takes many twists and turns following Anthony as he moves from businessman in Cuba to slave trader in Africa to rich benefactor in Paris. Along the way he comes across evil in the form of the Marquis Don Luis,and Bonnyfeather's housekeeper, Faith Paleologus, played respectively by Claude Rains and Gale Sondergaard.

Various moral messages are learned by our hero on his journey through life, including the evils of slavery and the importance of love. At the end he discovers, improbably, that his missing wife has become a famous opera singer and also the mistress of Napoleon Bonaparte.


The long set of books together called "Anthony Adverse" written by American author, Hervey Allen, was published in 1933 and became an immediate worldwide success. Warner Bros. were looking to diversify their movie output into opulent costume dramas and they bought the film rights to the novel for $40,000.

Warners initially wanted to sign up William Dieterle as director but eventually gave the job to Mervyn LeRoy who was Harry Warner's son-in-law and who had already gained a reputation for creating socially aware films.

The part of Anthony as a boy was originally scheduled for box-office favorite, child star, Freddie Bartholomew who had just had a hit with 'David Copperfield' in 1935. The part was finally given to Billy Mauch as he resembled Fredric March,who played Adverse as an adult.

The ensuing film was the most ambitious and expensive production ever attempted by Warner Brothers with 78 speaking parts and 98 roles, and also the longest, at 141 minutes. The African Slave Compound alone, built on the studio's backlot, occupied an astonishing twelve acres.

Main Cast

Fredric March ... Anthony Adverse
Olivia de Havilland ... Angela Giuseppe
Donald Woods ... Vincent Nolte
Anita Louise ... Maria
Edmund Gwenn ... John Bonnyfeather
Claude Rains ... Marquis Don Luis
Gale Sondergaard ... Faith Paleologus
Akim Tamiroff ... Carlo Cibo
Pedro de Cordoba ... Brother François
Louis Hayward ... Denis Moore
Ralph Morgan ... Debrulle
Henry O'Neill ... Father Xavier
Billy Mauch ... Anthony Adverse (age 10)
Joan Woodbury ... Half-Caste Dancing Girl
Marilyn Knowlden ... Florence Udney

Fredric March (1897-1975)
March won a deserved reputation as a first class movie actor and appeared in many fine films including 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' in 1932 and 'The Best Years of Our Lives' in 1946. He won the Best Actor Oscar for both these films and was nominated for the award a further three times. He gives a solid performance as Anthony Adverse but he seems out of place in the role.
Olivia de Havilland (b.1916)
She is one of the great female stars of Hollywood's Golden Age. She began in movies aged just nineteen and her role as Guiseppe was her follow up to 'Captain Blood' in 1935 which had been her first of nine appearances opposite the swashbuckling Errol Flynn.
Something of a beautiful clotheshorse in her early career, her most famous role was that of Melanie Wilkes in 'Gone with the Wind' in 1939, but she got some more substantial roles later and won the Best Actress Oscar twice, in 1946 for 'To Each His Own' and in 1949 for 'The Heiress'.
Donald Woods (1906-1998)
had a long acting career. He was never a major star but he forged an excellent reputation as a character actor on movies and television. He also worked steadily on the radio and appeared in over 100 stage plays.
Edmund Gwenn 1877-1959)
Gwenn was an English actor who appeared in over eighty films after a successful early career on the London stage. His first Hollywood film was 'Sylvia Scarlett' in 1935 and his most famous role by far was as Father Christmas in 1947's 'Miracle on 34th Street', for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Claude Rains 1889-1967)
Rains was a British movie and stage character actor who became one of the best known actors in Hollywood thanks to his polished performances in classic films such as 'Mr Smith Goes to Washington' in 1939, 'Notorious' in 1946 and above all as the cunning French police captain Louis Renault in 'Casablanca' in 1942. He gives another brilliant performance in 'Anthony Adverse' as the arrogant and evil Don Luis.
Gale Sondergaard (1899-1985)
She was a successful American stage actress before making her movie debut in 'Anthony Adverse'. Her brilliant performance as the villainous housekeeper set the pattern for similar roles in movies such as 'The Letter' with Bette Davis in 1940. Her career ended in the early 1950's when her husband, Herbert Biberman was blacklisted by HUAC.


Director ... Mervyn LeRoy
Producer ... Hal B. Wallis, Jack Warner
Screenplay ... Sheridan Gibney, Milton Krims
Based on ... The novel "Anthony Adverse" by Hervey Allen
Music ... Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Cinematography ... Tony Gaudio
Distribution Company ... Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date ... August 29, 1936
Running time ... 141 minutes

Academy Awards

Four Wins:
Best Supporting Actress ... Gale Sondergaard
Best Cinematography ... Tony Gaudio
Best Film Editing ... Ralph Dawson
Best Musical Scoring ... Leo F. Forbstein
Three Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Warner Bros. Pictures Best Assistant Director ... William Cannon
Best Art Direction ... Anton Grot