Peter Ibbetson

Peter Ibbetson is an American black-and-white drama film released in 1935 and directed by Henry Hathaway.[1]

Peter Ibbetson
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHenry Hathaway
Ray Lissner (assistant)
Produced byLouis D. Lighton
Written byStory:
George du Maurier
John Nathaniel Raphael
John Meehan
Edwin Justus Mayer
Waldemar Young
Constance Collier
Vincent Lawrence
StarringGary Cooper
Ann Harding
Music byErnst Toch
CinematographyCharles Lang
Edited byStuart Heisler
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • October 31, 1935 (1935-10-31)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States

The picture is based on a novel of the same name by George du Maurier, first published in 1891. In 1917, du Maurier's story was adapted into a very successful Broadway play starring John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Constance Collier and Laura Hope Crews. The story had also been filmed in 1921, as a silent film called Forever (1921), directed by George Fitzmaurice and starring the popular Wallace Reid. In the years that followed, a Ford Theater television Peter Ibbetson (1951) starring Richard Greene, and a Campbell Playhouse radio Peter Ibbetson (1951) directed by and starring Orson Welles were produced.[2]

This tale of a love that transcends all obstacles relates the story of two young lovers who are separated in childhood and then drawn together by destiny years later. Even though they are separated in real life because Peter is unjustly convicted of murder (it was actually self-defense), they discover they can dream themselves into each other's consciousness while asleep. In this way, they live out their life together. The transitions between reality and fantasy are captured by the cinematography of Charles Lang, as discussed in the documentary Visions of Light (1992).


Gogo is a young boy of English extraction growing up in Paris. He is friendly with the neighbor girl, Mimsey. After his mother dies, Gogo is taken to England by his uncle who gives him an English name based on his mother's maiden name, transforming Gogo into Peter Ibbetson. "So ended the first chapter in the strange foreshadowed life of Peter Ibbetson."

Now an adult Englishman, Ibbetson (Gary Cooper) is an architect working in Yorkshire on a restoration job for the Duke of Towers (John Halliday). a peer of the realm. He falls in love with Mary, Duchess of Towers (Ann Harding), and she with him, although she is already married. When the duke discovers this, he callously demands they explain themselves. Peter then realizes that Mary is his childhood sweetheart. All these years, Mary has kept, in the dresser beside her bed, the dress she wore at their last childhood meeting.

The Duke becomes jealous and pulls a gun on Ibbetson. Ibbetson manages to kill the Duke in self-defense. "So Death ended the second chapter. And then, in a prison on the bleak English moors..."

Ibbetson is unjustly convicted of murder, sentenced to life in prison, and despairs that he will never see Mary again. However, the lovers are reunited in one another's dreams, which connect them spiritually. Peter can leave prison to join Mary in sunlit glades and meadows, but only in his slumbers. "...and so, many years went by."

Though the years pass, Peter and Mary remain youthful in their dreams. Mary eventually dies of old age, but she goes to her usual dream rendezvous one last time and speaks to Peter from beyond. Then Peter joins her there.


Critical reception

The film was well received by film critics, including Andre Sennwald, in The New York Times, who liked Henry Hathaway's adaptation of the novel on film, his direction, and the acting. He wrote: "Mr. Hathaway bridges the spiritual gulfs between Lives of a Bengal Lancer [his previous film]...and the fragile dream world of du Maurier's sentimental classic with astonishing success. With his directness and his hearty masculine qualities, he skillfully escapes all the lush pitfalls of the plot and gives it a tenderness that is always gallant instead of merely soft. The photoplay, though it scarcely is a dramatic thunderbolt, possesses a luminous beauty and a sensitive charm that make it attractive and moving. Under Mr. Hathaway's management Miss Ann Harding, who has been losing prestige lately, gives her finest performance, while Gary Cooper fits into the picture with unexpected success."[3] The fact that the very American Gary Cooper was playing an Englishman without an English accent did not seem to bother critics.

Awards and honors


Also, the film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

In other media

  • An opera, Peter Ibbetson with music by Deems Taylor from a libretto by Constance Collier and Deems Taylor, based on the same 1891 novel by George du Maurier. It was performed at the Metropolitan Opera 55 times from 1931 to 1935.
  • Orson Welles's The Campbell Playhouse program performed a one-hour radio adaptation, broadcast on CBS on September 10, 1939.
  • The musical Dream True, by Ricky Ian Gordon (music and additional lyrics) and Tina Landau (book and lyrics), is a loose adaptation of the novel, reset in the United States from the 1940s through the 1980s, with a gay subtext (the Peter and Mary characters are both male). It played at the Vineyard Theatre in New York in 1999. The cast was led by Jeff McCarthy, Daniel Jenkins, and Judy Kuhn.[5]
  • The 1947 movie The Guilt of Janet Ames, starring Rosalind Russell and Melvyn Douglas, makes reference to Peter Ibbetson and utilizes the concept of projecting in the plot.


  1. Peter Ibbetson at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. Ibbetson (1935)/ Peter Ibbetson at The Dream Videophile by Deirdre Barrett, International Association for the Study of Dreams.
  3. Andre Sennwald (November 8, 1935). "Movie Review - A New Screen Version of 'Peter Ibbetson,' at the Radio City Music Hall -- 'It's in the Air.'". Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  4. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  5. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-01-31. Retrieved 2009-08-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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