The Corsican Brothers
Cast & Crew
J. Carrol Naish
H. B. Warner
As Count Franchi, head of one of Corsica's leading families, anxiously awaits the birth of his heir, his enemy, the treacherous Baron Colonna, is delighted that the occasion has brought all of the Franchis together under one roof, making them easy targets. After Dr. Enrico Paoli informs Franchi that his wife his given birth to Siamese twins, the Colonna clan storms the castle, killing everyone except Dr. Paoli and the servant Lorenzo, who escape with the infants and take refuge with the Franchis' friends, Monsieur and Madame Dupre. Dr. Paoli then performs surgery to separate the twins, whom he baptizes Mario and Lucien. The Dupres take Mario to Paris and rear him as their son, while Lorenzo takes Lucien to live with him in the forest. Twenty years later, Lucien has grown up to become the leader of a gang of bandits, whereas Mario enjoys a life of wealth and culture in Paris. At the opera one night, Mario becomes infatuated with Isabelle Gravini, a beautiful Corsican countess, and defends her from the unwanted advances of a marquis. As Mario fights in Paris, Lucien tosses and turns in his bed in Corsica, grabbing his shoulder in pain when Mario is wounded. On the eve of the twins' twenty-first birthday, Dr. Paoli reunites Lucien and Mario at their parents' graves, telling them the story of their family, and the brothers vow vengeance against Colonna. Meanwhile, Count Gravini has just refused Colonna's request for his daughter Isabelle's hand in marriage when word arrives that two of Colonna's cousins were killed, in two different locations, by identical bandits. The following week, having had Gravini poisoned, Colonna sets off to court Isabelle, accompanied by his cousin and aide, Tomasso. Mario appears at Isabelle's window and promises to rescue her from Colonna, and that night, he and Lorenzo take her to their hideout. Lucien, who immediately falls in love with Isabelle, seeks out Dr. Paoli and confesses his frustration at living a life that is merely a reflection of his brother's. The doctor is then questioned by Colonna and Tomasso, who suspect that the Franchi twins are still alive. The next day, after Isabelle rejects his advances, Lucien admits his love for her to Mario, and the brothers fight. Isabelle flees, but Colonna's men intercept her, and Tomasso sends the brothers a message by carrier pigeon that Isabelle needs their help. When Lucien refuses to let his men intervene, Mario goes to Colonna alone, posing as a Parisian jeweler with a selection of betrothal gifts. At the baron's ball that evening, Mario tells Isabelle that Colonna's jealous mistress, Maria, has arranged for their escape. However, Mario is recognized and imprisoned in Colonna's dungeon, where, after summoning Dr. Paoli, Colonna and Tomasso attempt to flog him into revealing Lucien's whereabouts. When Mario passes out, Dr. Paoli administers a potion that makes him appear to be dead. Lucien, sensing his brother's demise, rouses his men for an attack on Colonna's estate. Dr. Paoli takes Mario home and revives him just as Lucien shoots Tomasso and is himself mortally wounded. Suddenly, to Colonna's amazement, Mario appears and kills him, avenging his family. After making peace with his dying brother, Mario goes to Isabelle's side.
J. Carrol Naish
H. B. Warner
Pedro De Cordoba
Veda Ann Borg
Max H. Golden
John Ducasse Schulze
T. K. Wood
Best Music, Original or Comedy Series
The Corsican Brothers (1941)
The Brooklyn-born Small had been a talent agent during the silent era, later producing films through his Reliance Pictures, which had a distribution deal with UA. Small had his first crack at Dumas père with The Count of Monte Cristo (1934), starring Robert Donat. True to his name, the frugal producer kept his productions modest and got name actors to lower their asking price in exchange for roles they would not have been offered elsewhere. After a brief stint behind the scenes at RKO, Small formed Edward Small Pictures and produced James Whale's The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) and Rowland V. Lee's The Son of Monte Cristo (1940), both starring Louis Hayward. When 20th Century Fox scored a success with their lavish adaptation of The Three Musketeers (1939), Small turned to the lesser-known The Corsican Brothers but upped the ante by tapping Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., the son of cinema's greatest swashbuckler.
At the time he signed on to star in The Corsican Brothers, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. hadn't worked in a year. Handsomer than his world-famous father (whose second wife was silent screen star Mary Pickford), "Young Doug" never quite escaped that familial shadow. Given a Paramount contract when he was only 14 years old, Fairbanks fils (christened Douglas Elton Ulman Fairbanks at birth and raised by his mother after his parents' divorce) made a number of undistinguished silent films but paid his thespian dues as a stage actor. His early, four-year marriage to rising star Joan Crawford seemed to focus Fairbanks' energies and he was well-placed in a few big films after the advent of sound, including The Dawn Patrol (1930), Outward Bound (1930) and Little Caesar (1931). He played the villain to Ronald Colman's The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) and was one of the two-fisted heroes of Gunga Din (1939), made the year of his father's death.
At the time that cameras rolled on The Corsican Brothers in the summer of 1941, the war in Europe was escalating and Fairbanks' attentions were unevenly divided between his negligible career and his interests in politics, diplomacy and humanitarian causes. (Fairbanks' efforts on behalf of Russian refugees won him the admiration and respect of his Corsican Brothers director, Gregory Ratoff.) President Franklin Delano Roosevelt named the then-31 year-old actor a special envoy to South America and during shooting he was called to active duty by the United States Navy. Allowed to complete the picture, Fairbanks enjoyed the discipline of training with dueling coaches Ralph Faulkner (for sabers) and Fred Cavens (for foils and epées) and establishing distinct mannerisms for each of the identical Corsican Brothers (whose presence in the same frame was achieved via double exposure and rear projection). In between set-ups, Fairbanks' leading lady Ruth Warrick (an RKO player on loan-out) helped him study his officer's training manual. When the two parted company at the completion of principal photography, Fairbanks told Warrick that working with her was the most fun he'd had "since punting on the Thames with Gertie Lawrence" - and this despite the fact that he completed work on the film with a raging fever of 103 degrees.
The Corsican Brothers opened on December 18, 1941, just eleven days after the Japanese sneak attack upon the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. Due to America's entry into World War II, the official premiere at the Loew's Palace in Washington, D.C., was understated and conducted without benefit of klieg lights. Reviews were decidedly mixed, with The New York Times sniping that the production "has the comfortable old-fashioned look of a 1910 sofa, most of its springs are broken," but the box office returns were encouraging. As a junior officer aboard the Boston-based USS Mississippi, a navy supply ship, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., had no time to reflect on The Corsican Brothers... until a regularly scheduled movie night on the afterdeck consisted of a special screening of just that picture. Sitting uncomfortably among the assembled "bluejackets," the star of the show suffered the Bronx cheers and ribald remarks that greeted both his fight scenes with villain Akim Tamiroff (and Tamiroff's more agile double) and love scenes with Ruth Warwick. "The wolf whistles, catcalls, and shouted recommendations as to what I should do next," Fairbanks recalled in his combat memoir A Hell of a War, "held me in rigid dumbness with, I was told, a stupid, self-conscious grin on my face."
The military career of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., would prove to be decidedly more heroic. Promoted from lieutenant to lieutenant commander to commander, Fairbanks worked tirelessly with military intelligence, served as a valuable go-between for the American and British high commands and even invented a variety of decoy parachutist (or "paragon") that would draw enemy fire away from the activities of actual paratroopers and self-destruct on landing, leaving behind no trace of the bait-and-switch. For his service above and beyond the call of duty, Fairbanks was awarded the Silver Star, the British Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Honor and Croix de Guerre from France and the War Cross for Military Valor from Italy. In 1946, he was made Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Because his efforts for Naval Intelligence were so top secret in their day, the full extent of Fairbanks' military career may never fully be appreciated. (In an odd coincidence that illustrates the hush-hush aspect of this work, Fairbanks would later retain as a butler a man whom he discovered only by chance had been a ranking Special Operations officer during the war but who remained steadfast in his resolve never to speak of it.) On his return to Hollywood in 1947, Fairbanks enjoyed a sizeable success with Sinbad the Sailor at RKO but it was in television that he would have the most impact, as the host of the British anthology series Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Presents. He died of a heart attack on May 7, 2000, at the age of 90, and is interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, alongside his father.
by Richard Harland Smith
Salad Days by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
A Hell of a War by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
The Confessions of Phoebe Tyler by Ruth Warrick with Don Preston
The Deceivers: Allied Military Deception in the Second World War by Thaddeus Holt
The Politics and Strategy of Clandestine War: Special Operations Executive, 1940-1946 by Neville Wylie
The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz
The Corsican Brothers (1941)
The Corsican Brothers (1941)
The story of The Corsican Brothers begins in Corsica, of course, before the two are even born, when we learn their mother is about to give birth to them. The Count and Countess Franchi are proud to announce the imminent birth of their first child while their sworn enemies, the Colonnas, headed by the great Akim Tamiroff, are plotting to kill the whole family and seize power. After Dr. Paoli (H.B. Warner) informs the Count that the Countess gave birth to Siamese twins (no one calls them conjoined twins in this movie, as should probably be expected), the Count insists they be surgically separated, even if it kills them. Better they die than have to live joined, the father reasons, although the doctor thinks it's a mistake. Before the surgery can be performed, the Colonnas attack and kill the Count and Countess but not before the doctor can escape with the twins.
Eventually, the doctor is able to separate the two and the brothers, Lucien and Mario, both played by Fairbanks, Jr., are raised separately, neither knowing of the other's existence. But Lucien suspects it or, better said, senses it. As they grow up, Lucien feels what Mario feels. When Mario is physically injured, Lucien feels the pain. This sixth sense is finally confirmed when, on their 21st birthday, the doctor reunites the two and tells them who they really are. The two brothers vow revenge on the Colonnas clan.
Doing a movie with one actor playing two characters that interact is never easy but on a low budget, it can be especially difficult. The optical work has its problems but those problems mainly come from poor planning and bad decisions rather than low budget. For example, during the scene where the two brothers face each other as they are introduced, each with his hand on the Franchi family history bible, the effect looks good until the doctor and Mario overlap, with both men's hats becoming transparent, since the doctor is in the original shot with Lucien and Mario is in the second shot overlaid. A little better planning on their placement and this wouldn't have happened. Meanwhile, the bad decision comes with having Mario reach forward and touch Lucien's hand. When the arm goes out, clearly from someone else being masked in the Mario shot, it clearly comes off as a disembodied arm. Take out the transparent hats and the disembodied arm, and the effect would have worked seamlessly, because Fairbanks does a good job of playing both characters differently enough that special effects aren't necessary to convince the audience. It's a rare instance where the lower budget alternative, just having them stand on opposite sides of the screen, is much better than going for a clever effect. Better still are the shots where the two brothers are seen from medium distance or over the shoulder, at which point a double can be used and quite effectively. In this case, that double was the legendary Peter Cushing.
The Corsican Brothers works in spite of the low budget for a few reasons. One, it's simply a good, rousing swashbuckler, something Edward Small knew how to put together by combining the right actors with the right director. Two, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., while never reaching the heights of fame and celebrity as his father, was still good enough and charming enough to carry a movie like this on his shoulders and pull it off. And three, Akim Tamiroff, period (he's also reasons four through ten). Tamiroff made his name in the thirties with movies like The General Died at Dawn (1936) and The Buccaneer (1938), and by 1941 was in full command of his craft. He could have fun with a role like this and did. Bosley Crowther even singled him out in his New York Times review to say that while Fairbanks played his role with a bit too much "solemnity," Tamiroff played it with "thorough comprehension of its fancy-dress phoniness." In other words, he hammed it up, as well he should. Subtlety is rarely a virtue in a swashbuckler and The Corsican Brothers is no exception. And when it follows its low budget heart and forgets the clever optical tricks, it's at its enjoyable best.
By Greg Ferrara
The Corsican Brothers (1941)
Ruth Warrick (1915-2005) - Ruth Warrick, (1915-2005)
She was born on June 29, 1915 in St. Joseph, Missouri. After attaining a degree in theatre from the University of Kansas City, she left for New York, where in 1938, she joined the Mercury Theater troupe, headed by a young artist on the rise by the name of Orson Welles. When Welles prepared to film Citizen Kane (1941) he took several players from his Mercury Theater (Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloan, Agnes Moorehead) and of course, Ruth Warrick. She made her film debut in Welles' cinematic epic as Emily Norton Kane. Indeed, to many film buffs, Warrick's icy charms are indispensable to the celebrated montage sequence opposite Welles at the breakfast table; particularly when he broaches the subject of her husband's infidelity:
Emily Kane: Charles, people will think...
Charles Kane: What I tell them to think!
Warrick received fine reviews for her performance, and she had good roles in her next two films The Corsican Brothers (1941), with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Journey Into Fear (1942), opposite Joseph Cotton. Sadly, Hollywood, not knowing what to do with a well-trained, mature actress like Warrick, began to cast her into routine, forgettable fare: Mr. Winkle Goes to War (1944), China Sky (1945), and Swell Guy (1946). Disney's Song of the South (1947), was a box-office hit, and was her best film in a while, but overall, the material she received over the next few years, simply wasn't worthy of her talents.
Things turned around for her in the mid-50s, when Warrick discovered the medium of television. She had regular roles on The Guiding Light (1953-54), As the World Turns (1956-60), Father of the Bride (1960-61), and was unforgettable as the sinister housekeeper, Hannah Cord, in Peyton Place (1965-67). Yet it was her 35-year run in the role of Phoebe Wallingford in All My Children (1970-2005), that Warrick achieved her greatest triumph. As the rich, intrusive matriarch of the fictitious, affluent town known as Pine Valley, Warrick found a role that could be at once gloriously hammy and quietly conniving - qualities that highlighted her renown versatility as an actress. To honor her contribution to television, Warrick received a lifetime achievement award from the Daytime Emmys last December. She is survived by three children, a grandson, and six great-grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Ruth Warrick (1915-2005) - Ruth Warrick, (1915-2005)
The film's title card reads: "Alexandre Dumas' Immortal Classic The Corsican Brothers." The onscreen credits also note that the screenplay was based on "a free adaptation of the Dumas story." A written prologue appears following the onscreen credits, describing Corsica as a land "haunted by the grim shadow of Vendetta, that terrible law of life for a life, vengeance for vengeance, family against family." According to news items in Hollywood Reporter, producer Edward Small originally negotiated with Twentieth Century-Fox to borrow director Fritz Lang for the film. Hollywood Reporter news items also stated that Louis Hayward would star in the film, then reported that Small was seeking Paramount's permission to use Albert Dekker, provided the actor completed his role in M-G-M's Honky Tonk in time. Although a Hollywood Reporter news item lists V. McFadden as assistant production manager, the extent of his participation in the final film is not known. A Hollywood Reporter news item reported that locations on Catalina and near San Diego were scouted as possible production sites, after military operations on San Clemente made that location unavailable.
Dimitri Tiomkin was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music (Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture) for the film. Among the many other films based on, or inspired by, the Dumas story are: the 1917 French film Les Frères Corses, directed by Andre Antoine; the 1920 United Picture Theatres of America The Corsican Brothers (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.0804); the 1953 United Artists release Bandits of Corsica, starring Richard Greene and directed by Ray Nazarro; the 1970 Warner Bros. release Start the Revolution Without Me, starring Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland and directed by Bud Yorkin (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.4687); and the 1984 Orion release, Cheech and Chong's The Corsican Brothers, starring Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong and directed by Chong.