Cast & Crew
Following their performance of Elizabeth the Queen at Vienna's Burg Theatre, the Actor and the Actress, who have been married for six months, take their bows while exchanging mild insults under their breath. The Actor's jabs soon give way to jealous accusations of unfaithfulness, however, when he senses that his wife has already grown tired of him, her seventh husband, and is looking for her eighth. The Actor tells his friend, the critic Bernhardt, that he believes that her playing Chopin on the piano is a sign that she has been unfaithful to him. Knowing that his wife is fond of men in uniform, the Actor decides to disguise himself as a uniformed Russian guardsman and try to woo her in order to prove to himself that she can be easily seduced by such a man. After sending her flowers, the Actor waits for his wife's reaction, and then tries to get her to admit that she is courting a secret lover. Apparently fooled by her husband's disguise, the Actress tosses him a note accepting his request for a meeting. Later, in order to induce his wife's secret rendezvous with the Russian prince, the Actor tells her that he has been called away to play in Hamlet and will return the following day. That evening, after the Actor bids her farewell, the Actress immediately begins dressing to meet her paramour. When the Actor returns, disguised as the Soviet prince, he engages in a conversation with the Actress about her husband. The Actress tells the Actor that her husband is intelligent and handsome, and after she informs him that he has left her alone until the next day, she asks him to stay. Upset, the Actor begins to act in a brutish manner, until she calls out for her maid. The Actor is overjoyed by her resistance and her assurance that she loves her husband, but before she sends him away, she tells him to meet her at the opera that night. At the opera, the Actor, again in disguise, joins the Actress in her box, but she berates him for embarrassing her. Following the opera, the Actor escorts her home, where she kisses him but tells him that she does not wish to see him again. He rejoices over his apparent victory in determining his wife's faithfulness, but his elation is soon ended when she throws down the keys to her room. Though the Actor accepts her invitation, she spurns him once again and tells him that her jealous husband will soon be home. After leaving the apartment, the Actor removes his disguise, returns as her husband and, while reapplying his disguise in the next room, tells his wife of his supposed trip. When he re-emerges as the Russian guardsman, the Actor threatens his wife with a knife, but she laughs and tells him that she knew who he was from the first moment she saw him in his disguise. The Actress' meaningful nod and smile to Bernhardt, however, betrays the truth.
Alfred Lunt was born in Milwaukee on August 19, 1893. He began his acting career with a Boston stock company in 1912. By 1917, Lunt had made his Broadway debut. Lynn Fontanne was born in Essex, England on December 6, 1887. She began acting professionally in 1905, in London and as a member of a touring company. It was with this group that Fontanne first came to America. She first met Lunt while performing in the play Made of Money in 1919. They followed that engagement with another play called A Young Man's Fancy and, after that, the duo went their separate ways professionally and appeared in roles that would make them stars - Lunt in Booth Tarkington's Clarence and Fontanne in George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly's Dulcy.
The couple married in 1922 and for a time maintained separate careers. They were, by the mid-1920s, the most respected and highly paid stage actors in the country. So the decision in 1924 to join the Theatre Guild was somewhat surprising. The company was dedicated to performing more avant-garde works - and required Lunt and Fontanne to take pay cuts (from $900 a week to $300). With the Theatre Guild, Lunt and Fontanne performed in plays such as Shaw's Arms and the Man and Pygmalion, as well as works by Robert Sherwood and Ibsen.
After 1928, Lunt and Fontanne never appeared separately on stage and together, they ruled Broadway. Among their hits were several Noel Coward productions, like Private Lives and Design for Living. The couple were innovators in bringing naturalism to the American stage ¿ a style we take for granted now with a more realistic tone, overlapping dialogue, actors turning their backs to the audience, etc.
With such renowned success on the Broadway stage, it was inevitable that Hollywood would come calling. And in 1931 The Guardsman was adapted for the screen. The story is a simple farce - with Lunt and Fontanne cast as a husband and wife acting team. The husband suspects the wife of infidelity and disguises himself as a Russian guardsman to test her. The plot would become the basis for the 1943 film operetta The Chocolate Soldier with Nelson Eddy. One interesting note in The Guardsman, the play the characters perform at the beginning is Maxwell Anderson's Elizabeth the Queen, a play Lunt and Fontanne had performed on Broadway the year before.
The Guardsman was a success with film critics and moviegoers, but Lunt and Fontanne returned to the stage, unimpressed by the moviemaking process. They turned down future Hollywood offers, with Fontanne reportedly telling one studio, "we can be bought, but we cannot be bored." Lunt and Fontanne retired from acting in 1960. The Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway was named for them.
Alfred Lunt died in 1977 and Lynn Fontanne followed in 1983. The marker on their grave reads: "Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne were universally regarded as the greatest acting team in the history of English speaking theatre. They were married for 55 years and were inseparable both on and off the stage."
Producer: Albert Lewin, Irving Thalberg
Director: Sidney Franklin
Screenplay: Maxwell Anderson (play), Ferenc Molnar (play), Ernest Vajda
Cinematography: Norbert Brodine
Film Editing: Conrad A. Nervig
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Cast: Alfred Lunt (The Actor), Lynn Fontanne (The Actress), Roland Young (Bernhardt the critic), Zasu Pitts (Liesl), Maude Eburne (Mama), Herman Bing (a Creditor).
by Stephanie Thames
Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne, husband and wife, recreated the roles that they had played on Broadway in 1924. Although both had done silents, this was their debut in sound films.
Molnar's play opened in Budapest in 1911. English versions were staged in London (as 'Playing With Fire') and New York (as 'Where Ignorance Is Bliss') in 1913. But the definitive English version, adapted by Philip Moeller, opened in New York in 1924, and starred Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine.
The play from which a scene is shown at the beginning of the film is Maxwell Anderson's "Elizabeth the Queen", in which we see Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt recreating the roles of Queen Elizabeth I and Lord Essex, which they had played on Broadway in the actual original production of "Elizabeth the Queen" the year before.
Following its first presentation in Budapest in 1911, Ferenc Molnar's play was retitled Playing with Fire for its London run, and Where Ignorance Is Bliss for its New York run in 1913. In 1924, the play received a new adaptation by Philip Moeller and opened in New York as The Guardsman with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, who were husband and wife, starring. Aside from cameo appearances in Stage Door Canteen in 1943, this film, in which they reprised their stage roles, was the first and only picture they made. An onscreen acknowledgment thanks the Theatre Guild, Inc. for allowing the studio to picturize its "greatest stage success." Lunt and Fontanne received Academy Award nominations for their performances in the film. Modern sources note that producer Irving Thalberg intended to add the Lunts to a growing list of former Broadway players that the studio had been turning into screen stars. The Lunts, however, were not interested in doing any more films after The Guardsman, and the next film that Thalberg had set for them, Reunion in Vienna (see below), was turned over to John Barrymore and Diana Wynyard. Maxwell Anderson, who wrote the play Elizabeth the Queen, and who had once been under contract at M-G-M, agreed to let Thalberg use the final moments of his play for the opening sequence of the film. Although modern sources list actress Ann Dvorak in the cast as "The Fan," her appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. M-G-M's filmed a musical version of The Guardsman in 1941, entitled The Chocolate Soldier, which had no resemblance to the Oscar Straus musical of the same name. The 1941 film was directed by Roy Del Ruth and starred Nelson Eddy and Rise Stevens.