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The film opens with the following voice-over narration: "This is the tragic story of Amber St. Clair, slave to ambition, stranger to virtue, fated to find the wealth and power she ruthlessly gained wither to ashes in the fire lit by passion and fed by defiance of the eternal command-the wages of sin is death." A written prologue follows, establishing the historical and geographical locale and, after an introductory scene, a second written prologue sets the period as sixteen years later, during the reign of Charles II. Another voice-over narration, spoken by actor Cornel Wilde as the character of "Bruce Carlton," over closing shots is a reprise of dialogue from an earlier part of the film and states: "Haven't we caused enough unhappiness? May God have mercy on us both for our sins." Both voice-over narrations are only heard on the 35mm print and are not on the videotape release of the film.
Hollywood Reporter news items note that in September 1944, five weeks prior to the publication of Kathleen Winsor's novel, a bid for the rights was made by an undisclosed film studio based solely on the novel's synopsis. According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, in early October 1944, both Twentieth Century-Fox and M-G-M submitted story synopses to the PCA for approval. PCA head Joseph I. Breen unequivocally turned down the story, finding it "utterly and completely unacceptable under any one of a dozen provisions of the Production Code." News items indicate that the PCA officially banned the novel from motion picture consideration and note that the book's pre-publication publicity exploited the PCA statement. PCA files disclose that Twentieth Century-Fox's public relations director, Colonel Jason S. Joy, a former PCA executive, advised Breen on November 1, 1944 that despite the "ban," the studio intended to proceed with taking an option on the book, based on assurances from PCA official Geoffrey Shurlock that the narrative difficulties could be overcome. The purchase went through the following day, with Twentieth Century-Fox eventually paying $200,000 for the rights, which matched M-G-M's record price for A. J. Cronin's The Green Years (see below). News items claim that Winsor was to serve as assistant on the script and as technical advisor, but there is no corroborating evidence in studio files of her participation in any phase of production.
The Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, indicates that in early 1945, the studio assigned Jerome Cady to write a treatment and screenplay, and Cady completed a first draft by May. In August 1945, Philip Dunne was assigned to re-writes and his completed draft was submitted to the PCA in October 1945 and rejected. Dunne made the PCA's requested changes and the script received full approval in December 1945. A final draft was completed by Dunne in February 1946, necessitating arbitration to determine writing credits, which went to both Cady and Dunne, as well as Ring Lardner, Jr., who was hired in July 1946 for additional re-writes.
Script files indicate that studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck considered casting Rex Harrison as "Bruce Carlton," Lee J. Cobb as "Almsbury" and Victor McLaglen as "Black Jack." Among the several actresses tested for the role of "Amber" was Tallulah Bankhead. Although an October 1945 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that 19-year-old British actress Peggy Cummins was announced to star as Amber, an item in December asserted that testing for Amber was continuing and the number of candidates screened was likely to top the number who tried out for the role of "Scarlet O'Hara" in Gone With the Wind. In January 1946, Hollywood Reporter again declared that Cummins had been cast as Amber, and that Cornel Wilde was being brought off suspension for the role of Bruce.
Although John M. Stahl had been announced as director in October 1945, Edmund Goulding was listed as director in a January 1946 news item. Stahl was set as the director by February and, with a budget estimated in excess of $3,000,000, principal photography commenced in early Mar, with Vincent Price in the role of Almsbury, and Reginald Gardiner as "King Charles II." In late Apr, four weeks into production, filming was brought to a halt when it was announced that Cummins was suffering from the flu. The following day, by mutual consent with the studio, director Stahl withdrew from the production. Although Zanuck announced that a new director would be assigned and production would resume within a matter of days, Hollywood Reporter reported on May 1, 1946 that production of the film would be closed down for a three-month minimum and that another actress would likely be brought in to star and Otto Preminger to direct.
In mid-June 1946 Preminger was announced as Stahl's replacement. Hollywood Reporter items note that Price and Wilde and several other actors in lesser roles were departing the production due to scheduling conflicts. Richard Greene was finally cast as Almsbury in place of Price while Wilde stayed on as Bruce. A New York Times article mentioned Gene Tierney as a possible replacement for Cummins, and modern sources indicate that Preminger pressed Zanuck to cast M-G-M's Lana Turner. At the end of July 1946, the studio announced that Twentieth Century-Fox contractee Linda Darnell was taking over the role of Amber.
A Los Angeles Times article revealed that Twentieth Century-Fox was taking an estimated loss of approximately $1,000,000 in scrapping all the previously shot footage. Zanuck was quoted as remarking that "If there was any problem at all with Peggy Cummins, it was her extreme youth." Production was initially scheduled to recommence in September 1946, then moved back to October so that Preminger could rehearse the actors. According to Hollywood Reporter, in mid-October 1946, Twentieth Century-Fox placed Wilde on suspension, claiming that he had refused to continue in the role as Bruce unless granted a salary increase. The same item reported that Wilde insisted his refusal to play the role had nothing to do with salary demands, but rather "my dislike for it and my desire for a vacation." Two days later the matter was resolved and Wilde returned to the production. Location shooting was conducted by a second unit in Monterey, CA. Studio legal files indicate that dialogue director Paul England was cast in a supporting role as "Gumble," but his appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. Studio files also add that in November 1946 production was briefly shut down due to the illness of Margot Grahame, who played the role of "Bess," which was eventually cut from the completed film. Principal photography was completed in early March 1947, nearly one year after it had originally begun. According to Hollywood Reporter, Zanuck ordered two more weeks of filming at the end of March 1947.
An undated memorandum in the PCA file reports that "the finished picture is objectionable because it deals excessively in illicit sex and adultery." Other memos from the same file indicate that in late May 1947, Colonel Joy was informed by the PCA that the film was "in violation of the provisions of the Code," and that he admitted that the screen version was at least 50% to 60% different from the final script submitted for PCA approval in November 1946. Correspondence in the PCA files reveals that in late June 1947, Colonel Joy submitted two reels of re-edited and re-dubbed sequences based on recommendations by the PCA, and it was agreed that with those changes the film was "approvable." A formal seal of approval was granted on June 20, 1947. In an unusual action, just prior to the film's October 1947 release, Breen sent a three-page memo to MPPA president Eric Johnston in New York, outlining the reasons for granting the film the seal.
According to various contemporary news items, Forever Amber opened in New York City at the Roxy Theatre on October 22, 1947 and set an opening day box-office record. On the same day, the film was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency. Cardinal Francis J. Spellman, Archbishop of New York, termed the film "a glorification of immorality and licentiousness" and advised that "Catholics May not see this production with a safe conscience." Hollywood Reporter news items throughout the end of October and early November 1947 note that in Providence, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Boston, Catholic Church representatives spoke out officially against the film and in some cases attempted to have showings legally halted. Similar news items reveal that the Archbishop of Philadelphia threatened a boycott of the Fox Theatre unless Forever Amber was withdrawn within 48 hours.
According to memos and correspondence in PCA files, in an effort to reverse the Legion's "C" rating, Twentieth Century-Fox officials agreed with PCA recommendations that a voice-over prologue and epilogue be added. A PCA memo states that Preminger was "vehemently opposed" to the epilogue because Bruce's voice-over admission of sin is heard over a shot of Amber, and threatened to disassociate himself from the entire production if the edit was carried out. There is no evidence that Preminger took any such action. The additional soundtrack material and cutting instructions were shipped to over 400 exhibitors and were in full effect on all prints in release by mid-December 1947. Based on these changes, the Legion of Decency reclassified Forever Amber from a "C" or "condemned" rating to a "B" or "morally objectional in part" rating on 8 December 1947.
Forever Amber received an Academy Award nomination for Best Music/Scoring.