The Man Who Understood Women


2h 15m 1959

Brief Synopsis

A producer's wife runs from life in Hollywood in search of her roots.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Drama
Adaptation
Release Date
Oct 1959
Premiere Information
New York opening: 2 Oct 1959
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Bel Air, California, United States; The Riviera,France; Torrey Pines State Park, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Les couleurs du jour by Romain Gary (Paris, 1952).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 15m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

In 1956, at a hospital in Nice, France, film star Ann Garantier anxiously awaits word about the condition of her husband, Hollywood film producer Willi Bauche, who tumbled from a cliff into the sea. While waiting for the doctor's prognosis, Preacher, Willi's right-hand man and surrogate conscience, recalls Ann's meeting with Willi eight years earlier: Ann, an aspiring young actress at the studio, catches Willi's eye one day. In need of a muse, Willi tricks G. K., the studio boss, into offering her a contract. Under Willi's tutelage, Ann catapults to stardom, but Ann, who has fallen in love with her mentor, becomes frustrated because Willi is more interested in making movies than in making love. Fed up, Ann announces that she is quitting show business because Willi does not love her the way she loves him. After wrestling with his conscience, Willi finally proposes and they are married. On their wedding night, however, Ann is bitterly disappointed when Willi spends the entire evening strategizing her career rather than making love to her. Furious, Ann refuses to have sex with Willi until six months later, on the eve of the debut of their first independent production. Just as they are about to consummate their marriage, word comes that the picture is a smash success. Willi rockets out of the bedroom to celebrate with his cronies, leaving Ann forlorn and rejected once again. Later, when the couple travels to the Riviera to make their next film, Willi worries that France will pique Ann's rampant romanticism. To insure that his wife is not tempted by an amorous Frenchman, he hires two gangsters--Soprano, a burly Sicilian, and Baron, an addled count in a cigar-smoking stupor--to follow her. One night on the Promenade, Marco Ranieri, a dashing soldier, wins Ann over when he reveals that he carries her photograph next to his heart. On her last night in Nice, Ann encounters Marco once again at a nightclub, and their fervent glances at each other send emotional sparks flying across the room. Marco asks Ann to dance, and when they disappear from the dance floor, Willi flies into a jealous rage and dispatches Soprano and Baron to follow them. Marco takes Ann to his love nest up in the hills above the sea, and the next day, Ann phones Willi at his hotel and tells him that she is not coming back. Willi feigns nonchalance, but once alone, he breaks into tears. Soon after, Le Marne, a soldier friend of Marco's, visits Willi and threatens to expose Ann's affair unless Willi agrees to wine and dine him until he has to report to duty in three days. Willi capitulates, and embarks upon drunken debauchery, accompanied by Le Marne. Ann, meanwhile, fears that Marco loves the military more than her, but he reassures her that she is his priority. Back at the hotel, Soprano and Baron come to report to Willi, and find him passed out, clad in a clown costume. Willi awakens, and in a boozy haze, instructs Soprano to kill Marco. Asserting that lovers should never be separated, Soprano decides to kill Ann, too. After Soprano and Baron leave to execute Willi's orders, Willi rouses from his stupor and realizes what he has done. As Marco and Ann dreamily stroll along a fog-shrouded ridge above the sea, Soprano and Baron close in for the kill while Willi, still dressed in his clown outfit, charges up the hill to save Ann. Baron's protests that Ann should be allowed to live are ignored by Soprano, and consequently, when Soprano aims his gun at the lovers, Baron shoots him before he can shoot them. Willi, meanwhile, loses his footing at the top of the cliff and plunges into the sea below. Safely back in their love nest, Marco dons his uniform to return to duty, telling Ann that he is leaving because part of her will always belong to Willi. Preacher's narrative returns to the present, and the doctor appears, declaring that Willi is suffering from multiple fractures but will recover. Ann then tentatively enters Willi's hospital room. Relieved that she has returned, Willi recants his former life, and after asking her to marry him again, apologizes for their extended courtship.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Drama
Adaptation
Release Date
Oct 1959
Premiere Information
New York opening: 2 Oct 1959
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Bel Air, California, United States; The Riviera,France; Torrey Pines State Park, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Les couleurs du jour by Romain Gary (Paris, 1952).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 15m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

The Man Who Understood Women


One of the strangest roles Henry Fonda ever took on, far from his usual role - the decent guy from the American heartland – was Willie Bauche, in writer-director Nunnally Johnson's The Man Who Understood Women (1959). Fonda plays a Hollywood producer so obsessed with turning his wife, Ann Garantier, into a major star and sex symbol that he neglects her romantically and sexually, driving her back to her native France in frustration and into the arms of a charming military man. Willie's inconsistent efforts to be a better husband and the desperate acts he's driven to out of jealousy form the basis of the plot of this sometimes confused mixture of wacky comedy, inside-Hollywood satire, and romantic melodrama.

According to a 1958 news item in the Hollywood Reporter, the role of Willie was originally offered to Glenn Ford and Anthony Franciosa, who turned it down. The role required Fonda to play a parody of a driven filmmaker, purportedly based on Orson Welles, although it has been remarked that the character also bears some resemblance to writer-producer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, his screenwriter brother Herman, and even to Johnson himself. In the book on which the film is based, the 1952 French novel Les couleurs du jour (The Colors of the Day) by Romain Gary, the character is much more clearly like Welles (who was once married to sex symbol Rita Hayworth), and Johnson reportedly considered Welles himself for the part. In any case, Fonda landed it, and the story has him cavorting about at various points in, among other oddities, a goatee, mandarin robes, a gaucho costume, and a clown suit and heavy make-up. According to the Time magazine review on October 19, 1959, a woman at a sneak preview of the film in Manhattan was heard to cry out, "Good heavens, how could Hank have accepted such a role?" Most reviews were not much kinder to either Fonda or the picture, although it was voted one of the year's ten best films by the National Board of Review.

The role of Ann is played by Leslie Caron, still riding the wave of success that began with her sudden rise to stardom in An American in Paris (1951), her debut film, continuing through the title role in Gigi (1958), which had won nine Academy Awards a few months before this film's release. It was the only time she would appear with Fonda.

Gary's novel was more centrally focused on the character of the soldier, Marco, played here by Italian actor Cesare Danova in one of his first American movies. A number of Gary's books and stories have been turned into films, notably The Roots of Heaven, adapted by John Huston in 1958, and Lady L, which became a 1965 screen comedy starring Paul Newman and Sophia Loren and was allegedly based on Gary's first wife. A decorated war hero, Gary began writing right after World War II (when he also went into diplomatic service), eventually winning France's highest literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, twice, although one of those was under a pseudonym (no one is allowed to win the prize more than once). He directed two films, Birds in Peru (1968) and Kill! (1971), both of which starred his wife at the time, American actress Jean Seberg. The two were divorced in 1970 after eight years of a marriage marked by numerous difficulties, some of which have been blamed on Gary's domineering, Svengali-like hold on her (echoing the relationship of Willie and Ann in this movie). After repeated suicide attempts, she finally succeeded and was found dead in the trunk of her car in a Paris suburb in 1979. Gary, also prone to depression, ended his life with a shotgun blast in 1980, some have said in part because of Seberg's death, although his suicide note insisted there was no connection. In the book on which The Man Who Understood Women was based, Willie dies trying to save Ann's life after he has hired thugs to kill her. The movie, of course, has a far happier ending.

Studio publicity states that location shooting for The Man Who Understood Women took place in Bel Air, Torrey Pines State Park in California and on the Riviera. Most critics agreed that whatever flaws there were in story and characterization, The Man Who Understood Women was certainly beautiful to look at, particularly the scenes set in France. Cinematographer Milton Krasner was certainly no stranger to filming gorgeous European locales, having won an Academy Award for his work on the Italy-set Three Coins in the Fountain (1954). Krasner was also the director of photography on Joseph Mankiewicz's award-winning All About Eve (1950), which netted Krasner one of his seven nominations.

The New York Times review of the movie noted some "deliciously wry dialogue" and "wonderfully deft little vignettes," and noted that Caron was "so warm and lovely throughout that Mr. Fonda's frenzied blindness seems ridiculous."

Director: Nunnally Johnson
Producer: Nunnally Johnson
Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson, based on the novel Les couleurs du jour by Romain Gary
Cinematography: Milton R. Krasner
Editing: Marjorie Fowler
Art Direction: Maurice Ransford, Lyle R. Wheeler
Original Music: Robert Emmett Dolan
Cast: Henry Fonda (Willie Bauche), Leslie Caron (Ann Garantier), Cesare Danova (Marco), Myron McCormick (Preacher), Marcel Dalio (Le Marne), Conrad Nagel (G.K. Brody).
C-135m.

by Rob Nixon
The Man Who Understood Women

The Man Who Understood Women

One of the strangest roles Henry Fonda ever took on, far from his usual role - the decent guy from the American heartland – was Willie Bauche, in writer-director Nunnally Johnson's The Man Who Understood Women (1959). Fonda plays a Hollywood producer so obsessed with turning his wife, Ann Garantier, into a major star and sex symbol that he neglects her romantically and sexually, driving her back to her native France in frustration and into the arms of a charming military man. Willie's inconsistent efforts to be a better husband and the desperate acts he's driven to out of jealousy form the basis of the plot of this sometimes confused mixture of wacky comedy, inside-Hollywood satire, and romantic melodrama. According to a 1958 news item in the Hollywood Reporter, the role of Willie was originally offered to Glenn Ford and Anthony Franciosa, who turned it down. The role required Fonda to play a parody of a driven filmmaker, purportedly based on Orson Welles, although it has been remarked that the character also bears some resemblance to writer-producer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, his screenwriter brother Herman, and even to Johnson himself. In the book on which the film is based, the 1952 French novel Les couleurs du jour (The Colors of the Day) by Romain Gary, the character is much more clearly like Welles (who was once married to sex symbol Rita Hayworth), and Johnson reportedly considered Welles himself for the part. In any case, Fonda landed it, and the story has him cavorting about at various points in, among other oddities, a goatee, mandarin robes, a gaucho costume, and a clown suit and heavy make-up. According to the Time magazine review on October 19, 1959, a woman at a sneak preview of the film in Manhattan was heard to cry out, "Good heavens, how could Hank have accepted such a role?" Most reviews were not much kinder to either Fonda or the picture, although it was voted one of the year's ten best films by the National Board of Review. The role of Ann is played by Leslie Caron, still riding the wave of success that began with her sudden rise to stardom in An American in Paris (1951), her debut film, continuing through the title role in Gigi (1958), which had won nine Academy Awards a few months before this film's release. It was the only time she would appear with Fonda. Gary's novel was more centrally focused on the character of the soldier, Marco, played here by Italian actor Cesare Danova in one of his first American movies. A number of Gary's books and stories have been turned into films, notably The Roots of Heaven, adapted by John Huston in 1958, and Lady L, which became a 1965 screen comedy starring Paul Newman and Sophia Loren and was allegedly based on Gary's first wife. A decorated war hero, Gary began writing right after World War II (when he also went into diplomatic service), eventually winning France's highest literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, twice, although one of those was under a pseudonym (no one is allowed to win the prize more than once). He directed two films, Birds in Peru (1968) and Kill! (1971), both of which starred his wife at the time, American actress Jean Seberg. The two were divorced in 1970 after eight years of a marriage marked by numerous difficulties, some of which have been blamed on Gary's domineering, Svengali-like hold on her (echoing the relationship of Willie and Ann in this movie). After repeated suicide attempts, she finally succeeded and was found dead in the trunk of her car in a Paris suburb in 1979. Gary, also prone to depression, ended his life with a shotgun blast in 1980, some have said in part because of Seberg's death, although his suicide note insisted there was no connection. In the book on which The Man Who Understood Women was based, Willie dies trying to save Ann's life after he has hired thugs to kill her. The movie, of course, has a far happier ending. Studio publicity states that location shooting for The Man Who Understood Women took place in Bel Air, Torrey Pines State Park in California and on the Riviera. Most critics agreed that whatever flaws there were in story and characterization, The Man Who Understood Women was certainly beautiful to look at, particularly the scenes set in France. Cinematographer Milton Krasner was certainly no stranger to filming gorgeous European locales, having won an Academy Award for his work on the Italy-set Three Coins in the Fountain (1954). Krasner was also the director of photography on Joseph Mankiewicz's award-winning All About Eve (1950), which netted Krasner one of his seven nominations. The New York Times review of the movie noted some "deliciously wry dialogue" and "wonderfully deft little vignettes," and noted that Caron was "so warm and lovely throughout that Mr. Fonda's frenzied blindness seems ridiculous." Director: Nunnally Johnson Producer: Nunnally Johnson Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson, based on the novel Les couleurs du jour by Romain Gary Cinematography: Milton R. Krasner Editing: Marjorie Fowler Art Direction: Maurice Ransford, Lyle R. Wheeler Original Music: Robert Emmett Dolan Cast: Henry Fonda (Willie Bauche), Leslie Caron (Ann Garantier), Cesare Danova (Marco), Myron McCormick (Preacher), Marcel Dalio (Le Marne), Conrad Nagel (G.K. Brody). C-135m. by Rob Nixon

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

According to a December 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item, Glenn Ford and Anthony Franciosa both turned down the role of "Willi." An April 1958 Los Angeles Examiner news item announced that May Britt was originally set to star as "Ann." Although Hollywood Reporter production charts include Hank Henry and Jack Krushen in the cast, Krushen was not in the released film, and Henry's appearance has not been confirmed. A January 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that Gary Spencer was to play a reporter, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Although a January 1959 Los Angeles Times news item states that Nina Shipman was to play a girl spurned by Henry Fonda, she does not appear in the released film.
       Studio publicity contained in the film's production file at the AMPAS Library states that location filming was done in Bel Air, CA; Torrey Pines State Park, near San Diego, CA, and on the Riviera in France. The Man Who Understood Women marked the American screen debut of Italian actor Cesare Danova.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1959 National Board of Review.

Released in United States 1959

CinemaScope

Stereophonic

Released in United States 1959