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It would be fruitless to look at Devotion (1946) as any sort of historical document about the Bronte sisters; the movie simply doesn't attempt to be factually accurate. Although it does depict the three most famous sisters - Charlotte (author of Jane Eyre), Emily (author of Wuthering Heights), and Ann (author of Agnes Grey) - and some of the actual people in their lives, it strays far from the harsh realities they endured. It doesn't even bother to show the typical kind of weather in their hometown of Haworth, England. (In the movie it's always sunny.)
Critics and literary scholars hated Devotion, and likely still do, because of the liberties it takes. Considered on its own terms, however, Devotion isn't bad, even if it doesn't achieve the heights that studio chief Jack Warner envisioned for it. In the works for two years before filming started, it ended up sitting on a shelf for two more years after filming ended.
One of the best things about the film is its cast, with Ida Lupino, Paul Henreid and Arthur Kennedy particular standouts. Director Curtis Bernhardt later recalled, "The best part in the movie was that of the brother [Branwell Bronte]. Arthur Kennedy played it beautifully. He played it to the hilt. Lupino was also good as Emily, the most talented of the sisters...She had a fine sense of humor. She always called me 'Ducky.'" Bernhardt found Olivia de Havilland (Charlotte Bronte) much more difficult to work with, describing how she fought him on the simplest staging instructions. "Lupino," he said, "was more accessible artistically than de Havilland during the making of the film. De Havilland became really obnoxious."
According to Paul Henreid, there was plenty of nasty feuding going on behind the scenes. In his memoir Ladies Man, he described his fondness for Lupino and his distaste for the mind games played by de Havilland and even Jack Warner. "Stars are not vulnerable women," he wrote. "To get to the top you must have an aggressive nature. But of all the women I worked with, Ida Lupino seemed the most vulnerable. She was a soft person with a great sense of sweetness about her, but anything that might have developed between us was destroyed by Olivia's machinations."
Henreid suspected that de Havilland told Bernhardt that Lupino was behind a rumor that Bernhardt was to be replaced by Lewis Milestone. In truth, both actresses concocted the story in an attempt to get Bernhardt to loosen up on set - because, Henreid wrote, "Kurt was a good director but had a touch of arrogance about him, a brusqueness that could be hurtful."
Henreid also recounted a "dirty trick" that Jack Warner played on Lupino. Warner planned to give her top billing because she was the bigger star, but he wanted to have de Havilland end up with Henreid at the film's climax because winning the leading man's heart would help build de Havilland's stardom, and her future box office power. Warner gave Lupino a script that ended with her character's death but did not include a final scene between Henreid and de Havilland.
"When Ida saw the final version," Henreid wrote, "she was furious. 'I've always been your friend, Paul. How could you do this to me?' 'What are you talking about?' I asked, genuinely puzzled. 'You knew they were shooting another ending,' she answered furiously. 'But I didn't know. My script always had that ending in it. I had no way of knowing that yours didn't.' Ida began to weep. 'But Olivia said you did know!' I realized that Olivia too was in on the trick and was trying to shift some blame onto me. 'Ida,' I said, 'I swear to you that I didn't know, and if I had, I'd have told you. Olivia is a troublemaker!'
"'Oh, Paulie!' And Ida, still crying, came into my arms to be comforted."
Both Henreid and Lupino later became directors themselves, with Lupino helming her first feature in 1949 and Henreid following in 1952. Both directed films and television into the late 1960s.
Devotion was Olivia de Havilland's last film under contract with Warner Brothers. After production, however, the studio told her she still owed six months' worth of work, even though her seven-year contract was up. The reason? She had previously been placed on suspension for refusing to take roles assigned to her, and the studio said she had to make up the suspension time. De Havilland sued, and the courts agreed with her, ruling that the state Anti-Peonage law which limited employer-employee contracts to seven calendar years applied to studios and actors as well. Seven years was seven years, regardless of suspensions. It was a landmark legal victory and came to be known as "the de Havilland decision." When de Havilland finally returned to work after this long court process, it was in Paramount's To Each His Own (1946), for which she won the Oscar® for Best Actress.
Devotion was the last film for actor Montagu Love, who died shortly after production at age 66. A notorious villain of the silent screen, Love hit his peak in the late 1920s playing opposite John Barrymore and Rudolf Valentino, and he went on to supporting roles in dozens of sound era pictures including The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and The Mark of Zorro (1940).
The Bronte sisters have been portrayed on film and TV numerous times over the years. In 1944, a 20-minute short entitled Three Sisters of the Moors was released prior to Jane Eyre (1944) as a way of promoting that feature. Other productions include a 1973 British miniseries (The Brontes of Haworth), a 1979 French feature (The Bronte Sisters), and a 1983 television movie (Bronte). As of 2007, a new feature film currently entitled Bronte is in the works.
Producer: Robert Buckner
Director: Curtis Bernhardt
Screenplay: Theodore Reeves, Keith Winter, Edward Chodorov
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Film Editing: Rudi Fehr
Art Direction: Robert M. Haas
Music: Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Cast: Ida Lupino (Emily Bronte), Paul Henreid (Arthur Nicholls), Olivia de Havilland (Charlotte Bronte), Sydney Greenstreet (William Makepeace Thackeray), Nancy Coleman (Anne Bronte), Arthur Kennedy (Branwell Bronte).
BW-107m. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold