The Constant Nymph (1943 film)
The Constant Nymph is a 1943 romantic drama film starring Charles Boyer, Joan Fontaine, Alexis Smith, Brenda Marshall, Charles Coburn, May Whitty, and Peter Lorre. It was adapted by Kathryn Scola from the Margaret Kennedy novel and play by Kennedy and Basil Dean, and directed by Edmund Goulding.
|The Constant Nymph|
|Directed by||Edmund Goulding|
|Produced by||Henry Blanke|
Hal B. Wallis
|Written by||Margaret Kennedy (novel and play)|
Basil Dean (play)
|Music by||Erich Wolfgang Korngold|
|Edited by||David Weisbart|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Budget||$1.9 million (US rentals) or $1,123,000|
Lewis Dodd (Charles Boyer) is a poor, charming and self-centered Belgian composer whose latest symphony has flopped in London. Seeking new inspiration, and to escape his critics and the demands of his landlord, he accepts an invitation to go to Switzerland to stay at the slightly run-down mountain home of friend and mentor, composer and genius Albert Sanger (Montagu Love) and his latest wife, Lina. Lewis has known Sanger's four young daughters—Kate (Jean Muir), Toni (Brenda Marshall), Tessa (Joan Fontaine) and Paula (Joyce Reynolds)—since they were babies. All have had crushes on him, and all are accomplished musicians. Although he sees Tessa as a little girl, a “graceless little baggage” she believes that someday, when she is old enough, he will recognize the depth of her love.
The family gives Lewis a dizzyingly merry welcome: The girls scamper everywhere, and some worry about Tessaʼs “spells” but Tessa is consumed with worry about Lewisʼs music, a concern her father shares. Sanger tells her there is no blood in Lewis’ music. The man needs to suffer: If he never really cried he could never really be great.
Lewis brings with him a new work, a poem called “Tomorrow,” which he has written out for the Sanger girls to play. (This is the musical theme that underlies the entire film.) Sanger himself is far more pleased with this “trifle” than with Lewis’s noisy modernist symphony.
The elderly and hard-drinking Sanger suddenly dies. One of his last acts is to begin an orchestration of Lewis’s “little tune” as a symphonic poem.
Lina leaves and, per Sanger’s instructions, Lewis sends to England for Charles Creighton (Charles Coburn), Sanger's wealthy brother-in-law (the uncle of Tessa and Paula), and Creighton’s adult daughter, Florence (Alexis Smith), to help the children, as Sanger had very little money to leave them. Kate leaves for Milan, to study there, Toni marries Fritz (Peter Lorre)— and Lewis falls in love with the beautiful and sophisticated Florence and quickly asks her to marry him. Tessa collapses at the news. Only Paula understands.
In London, 6 months later, Florence and Lewis—and the Sangerʼs faithful servant Roberto —are living in her father‘s magnificent townhouse. Tessa and Paula theoretically live there too, but Florence has packed them off to boarding school. Florence is readying the house for a musical reception introducing her husband to her circle of friends. Lewis’ reticence has made him a mystery to everyone. They fight, clearly not for the first time, and her father doesn’t understand why they can’t keep it between themselves. He tells Lewis that he was the first and only man in Florence’s life. Florence angers Lewis by trying to promote and manage his social and professional activities while he values his independence, and her lack of understanding when it comes to music is a growing barrier between them.
Tessa and Paula write from boarding school, which they find unbearable. A telegram immediately follows, announcing that the girls have run away. Lewis is very worried, and Florence dismisses his concerns, much as she has downplayed the diagnosis of Tessa’s fainting as a valvular lesion on her heart.
The reception is underway when Lewis returns home, having put Scotland Yard on the track of the girls. Toni and Fritz arrive (Florence did not think they would come all the way from France and Lewis takes them upstairs to talk. Roberto stops them to let thrm know that the girls are safe and have been hiding in Lewis’s studio above the garage. Toni announces her pregnancy and offers to take Paula back with them to France. Florence comes into Lewis’s bedroom to witness the reunion.
Lewis performs “Tomorrow” as a duet for two pianos, with a noted pianist (engaged by Florence) on the second instrument . The girls listen to the cacophony on the staircase. Only the opening bars are recognizable. Tessa says that it is brilliant but there is no feeling and tells Paula what their father said about Lewis: that he could be great if he could only cry. Then, devastated by the change in the music and her awareness that he is now gone from them in every way, Tessa weeps.
The next day, after seeing Paula off to live with Toni and Fritz, an ebullient Tessa dashes into the studio. She starts to tell Lewis what her father would have thought of the previous night’s performance, and then Florence comes in, full of enthusiasm. “Very loud, very defiant and very aggressive and I suppose some people would pretend to like it even if they didn't understand it . Did Tessa understand it? Unfortunately no, and she doesn't think Lewis did either. Lewis has taken the beautiful melodic line and buried it under a lot of mathematics and racket “bankety bang.”
Florence is horrified that he is even considering changes at this late date. The concert is only a few weeks away. Lewis asks Florence to leave him to think, but he also wants Tessa to stay and help him remember the original plan. She stands at the piano and lightly plays a few bars of the original melody. Lewis sits down and plays richer chords. “Lewis, that's it!” Tessa exclaims.
Weeks later, it is the day of the concert. Toni is in labor, and Fritz goes to the florist with Tessa. She buys a buttonhole for Lewis, and with the best of intentions, concocts a scheme for Fritz to send flowers to Florence in Lewis’s name. (Lewis has never done such a thing.) At the house, her uncle summons her to pour him tea and she has a “stitch”, the first of several during this last part of the film. She shows him her new, long white organdy dress, sent by Toni and Fritz, saying she won’t look “such a child” in it. Her uncle addresses her as “young woman.” He at least has some idea of what is going on.
Tessa is still a gawky schoolgirl to Lewis and everyone else, but Florence is ridden with jealousy, jealousy of the Sangers’ long friendship and the profound language of music which she cannot share as well as the possibility of a romance. Lewis has told her that he is thinking of going away after the concert, Florence assumes he is plotting with Tessa. When Tessa runs to get Lewis and Fritz for tea, Florence breaks down and unburdens herself to her father, who warns her not to push Lewis and Tessa into each other’s arms
The flowers arrive; Fritz forgot to tell Lewis about them and they are almost the last straw for Florence. The last straw comes when Tessa tells Fritz that he won’t recognize the concert tonight because it has a little heart in it now. Florence stalks from the room.
Tessa sincerely wants to know what is wrong with Florence and asks Lewis, who says she is “unaccountable.” When Lewis, smiling, asks Tessa if she is disturbed about him, she suddenly sobs in agony “Of course I am!” and Lewis’ eyes are opened. In a long, hurried conversation, they confess their feelings for one another. Tessa had promised herself to him in her heart so very long ago. Why didn’t he wait [for her to grow up]? But she will not let him kiss her. He belongs to Florence. She will not be a traitor.
Later that evening, as he is dressing, Lewis tells Florence that he is leaving after the concert. She begs for another chance; she will do anything he asks her. Knowing he will reject her, she tells him not to speak now. She will wait while he is gone. He talks to her about Tessa; he wants them to be good friends while he is gone; Tessa deserves to be loved. Under her questioning he explains that when he married her he saw no one but her, but admits the paradox that he loves Tessa and has always done so. He tells her that Tessa will have none of him. Florence, furious, believes he is lying and that he and Tessa have been lovers.
Florence then goes to Tessa with a bottle of smelling salts (Tessa has just had a fainting spell) to tell her she cannot go to the concert. She might have palpitations and cause a scene. Tessa is full of plans to move away to Paris and live with Toni and Paula and Fritz—and never see Lewis again. Florence bitterly confronts the girl and accuses her of deliberately setting out to steal Lewis—and succeeding. Tessa is appalled, and loudly proclaims her innocence. She makes things worse: When Florence says “You don’t know what love means, Tessa wistfully replies “Yes I do. I know all about it.” Florence explodes, screaming “What do you mean ?” and seizes her by the shoulders. Tessa screams and collapses. Florence slowly helps her to her feet and, as if nothing had happened, gives her the smelling salts and leaves the room. Lewis comes in, and Tessa tells him she will stay home from the concert, painting an amusing picture of staid old gentlemen falling all over themselves to help her.
Tessa sends him to his music and he kisses her on her forehead. He leaves behind the boutonnière and she wonders aloud how to get it to him: She must be leaving that night. The concert begins and the action moves back and forth onscreen as the entire composition is played through.
Tessa is packed and wearing her school uniform. Roberto gets her something to eat and she stops to listen to the radio broadcast of the performance.
She imagines meeting Lewis near the Swiss house and talking of their love. She tells him that she has loved him since before she was born, and remembers her father saying that if Lewis could only suffer, it would make all the difference. The soloist sings and the words frighten her. Back in the study, as the soloist sings a song of love, death and beauty, Tessa falls to the floor clutching the flower she had planned for Lewis’ buttonhole and dies.
Feeling that something is wrong, Lewis rushes home early. He looks in Tessa’s room but it is empty. He asks Roberto where Tessa is, and he gestures toward the study. Florence, who followed him from the concert, pulls him aside and apologizes for everything: The music helped her to understand. She loves Lewis and wants him to be happy. The others return (the concert was a huge success).
Lewis goes into the study, where Roberto stands, waiting, in the room he has made ready. Smiling, Lewis asks: Is she asleep? Yes. Is that her bag? Yes. Casually, he tucks the flower in his buttonhole. Is she going away? Yes. Did she hear the concert on the radio? Yes. He walks to end of the sofa, where he can see Tessa’s body lying there. Roberto, overcome, leaves the room. Lewis calls her name and embraces her, his face wet with tears. The music climaxes as the log in the fireplace seems to spark, then flame, and then dissolves into a brilliant sky.
- Charles Boyer as Lewis Dodd
- Joan Fontaine as Tessa Sanger
- Alexis Smith as Florence Creighton
- Brenda Marshall as Toni Sanger
- Charles Coburn as Charles Creighton
- May Whitty as Lady Longborough
- Peter Lorre as Fritz Bercovy
- Joyce Reynolds as Paula Sanger
- Jean Muir as Kate Sanger
- Montagu Love as Albert Sanger
- Eduardo Ciannelli as Roberto
- Janine Crispin as Marie
- Doris Lloyd as Miss Hamilton
- Joan Blair as Lina
- André Charlot as Dr. Renee
- David Clyde as Florist
- George Kirby as Moving Man
- Brandon Hurst as Minor Role (uncredited)
Erich Wolfgang Korngold composed the music for The Constant Nymph. The symphonic poem “Tomorrow,” which was given a complete performance in the film, became Opus 33 in the long roster of his works. It was first performed in concert in 1944.
Fontaine was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
The will of Margaret Kennedy stated that the film could be shown only at universities and museums after its original theatrical run ended. As a result, the film was unavailable for exhibition for nearly seventy years. The film received its first authorized public screening in decades as part of the 2011 Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival.
Edmund Goulding's biographer Matthew Kennedy wrote that Joan Fontaine spoke "rapturously" of The Constant Nymph. "She was nominated for a best actress Oscar for it," he stated, "and it remains a personal favorite of hers."
The film was released on DVD under the Warner Archive Collection label on 22 November 2011.
- "Top Grossers of the Season", Variety, 5 January 1944 p 54
- Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 23 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
- LIFE. "Movie of the Week: The Constant Nymph" - August 2, 1943 - Page 38.
- "The Constant Nymph". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2014-02-10.
- "TCM Fest: 'The Constant Nymph' (1943), a rediscovered gem". Archived from the original on 2011-05-05. Retrieved 2012-10-17.
- TCM Classic Film Festival: 'Night Flight,' 'The Constant Nymph,' 'Hoop-La'
- Kennedy, Matthew (2004). Edmund Goulding’s Dark Victory: Hollywood’s Genius Bad Boy. University of Wisconsin Press.
- DVD Savant Review: The Constant Nymph
- "'Nymph'". Harrisburg Telegraph. December 14, 1946. p. 17. Retrieved September 11, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- The Constant Nymph at the American Film Institute Catalog
- The Constant Nymph on IMDb
- The Constant Nymph at the TCM Movie Database
- The Constant Nymph at AllMovie
- THE SCREEN; ' The Constant Nymph,' With Joan Fontaine, Alexis Smith, Brenda Marshall and Charles Boyer, Arrives at the Strand (New York Times Movie Review)