Anthony Adverse (1936): Mervyn LeRoy Oscar-Nominated Epic Starring Fredric March and Olivia de Havilland

Mervyn LeRoy’s screen version of Anthony Adverse was based on the best-selling novel by Hervey Allen, which was published in 1933 and was translated into over 20 foreign languages.

Done in an epic style, with an epic running time (140 minutes) and lavish sets and costumes to match, the saga centers on the adventures of Anthony Adverse (Fredric March), the love child of an unhappy Spanish young wife and the soldier who is killed by Don Luis (Claude Rains) in a duel.

After his mother’s death, the nobleman drops the baby at a girl’s convent in Leghorn, Italy, where he is raised as the school’s only male.

Befriended by a kind priest, Anthony is brought to the home of John Bonnyfeather, a Scottish merchant based in Leghorn. The boy grows to manhood and falls in love with Angela (Olivia De Havilland), the child of a domestic. Their brief idyll is interrupted when Angela’s father moves elsewhere and Bonnyfeather sends Anthony across the seas to check on some of his investments abroad, including exotic locales such as Cuba and Africa.

The ensuing plot is full of twists and turns, coincidences and intrigues that must have been considered stirring and involving by standards of the 1930s. To give an example, along the way, Anthony circumvents schemes by Bonneyfetaher and his associate Faith (Gale Sondergaard) to destroy him by revealing his true origins. Later on, in Paris, Anthony reconnects with Angela, who’s now a famous opera starand Napoleon’s mistress.

Unbeknownst to him, Angela had borne him a child, who she sends to his father upon realizing that it’s too late for them to resume life as a happy couple. In the end, father and son sail for a new life in the new land of opportunities, America.

Frank S. Nugent, the New York Times critic, reflected the opinion of many of his colleagues when he wrote: “The fault is less with the mammoth dimensions of the novelwhich admittedly offered a problem to the screen adaptersthan with the complete aimlessness with which the Warners effected their transcription. Scene after scene is presented almost as Allen described it, but the people in them are substanceless as dreams.”

Oscar Nominations: 7

Picture, produced by Henry Blanke
Supporting Actress: Gale Sondergaard
Cinematography: Gaetano Gaudio
Interior Decoration: Anton Grot
Assistant Director: William Cannon
Film Editing: Ralph Dawson
Score: Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Oscar Awards: 4

Supporting Actress
Film Editing

Oscar Context

“Anthony Adverse” competed for the Best Picture Oscar with nine other films: “The Great Ziegfeld,” which won, “Dodsworth,” “Libeled Lady,” “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “San Francisco,” “The Story of Louis Pasteur,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” and Three Smart Girls.

The other most nominated film were William Wyler’s “Dodsworth,” with 7 citations, winning one, for Richard Day’s Interior Decoration, and “Anthony Adverse,” which won the largest number of awards (4) of it 7 nominations. Of all studios, MGM dominated the Oscar race, with five (half) of the Oscar-nominated films.

The winner of the Directing Oscar was Frank Capra for “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.” Pierre Collings and Sheridan Gibney won the writing Oscar for “The Story of Louis Pasteur”; and Richard Day the Art Direction for “Dodsworth.”