Lydia (1945): Julien Duvivier’s Remake of his French Melodrama, Starring Merle Oberon and Joseph Cotten

French director Julien Duvivier helmed the melodrama Lydia, starring Merle Oberon in the titular role as a woman whose life is seen from her immature youth through bitter and resentful middle years, until at last she is old and accepting.

Grade: B (**1/2* out of *****)


theatrical poster

The picture is a remake of Duvivier’s Un carnet de bal (1937), which starred Marie Bell as the leading character.

The supporting cast features Joseph Cotten, Edna May Oliver and George Reeves.

Lydia Macmillan (Merle Oberon), an elderly woman who is running a children’s home, gets an unexpected visit from a long lost acquaintance, Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick (Joseph Cotten).

They haven’t seen each other for forty years, when they were young and in love.

The story of their lives unfold as they remember the past with fondness and also some regret.

Last Reel:

With bitterness and regret, Lydia tells the three men about how she finally accepted Michael’s marriage proposal, even though she could not return his love. However, when her grandmother dies just before her wedding. Lydia decides to devote the rest of her life exclusively to her school.

As Lydia finishes her story, one final guest arrives, the now aged Richard Mason. Lydia seems willing to forgive him, but Mason doesn’t remember her at all. Lydia describes this event as the “perfect punishment” for her past “sinful” behavior. She finally concedes that she was a different person to everyone who met her.

Inevitable comparisons were made with Duvivier’s original French film, which was superior in every respect.

New York Times critic Bosley Crowther pointed out: “The fault, one can easily say, lies in the construction and writing of the film. The story is loosely conceived and then the dialogue is pitched on in thick gobs—high-flown, poetic speeches and chunks of solemn soliloquy.”

The movie was not popular at the box-office.


Directed by Julien Duvivier
Produced by Alexander Korda
Written by Leslie Bush-Fekete, Julien Duvivier; Screenplay by Ben Hecht, Samuel Hoffenstein, André De Toth (uncredited), based on Story: Un Carnet de Bal
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography Lee Garmes
Edited by William Hornbeck

Production company: Alexander Korda Films, London Films

Distributed by United Artists

Release date: September 18, 1941

Running time: 104 minutes

Merle Oberon as Lydia MacMillan
Joseph Cotten as Michael Fitzpatrick
Hans Jaray as Frank Andry
Alan Marshal as Richard Mason
Edna May Oliver as Sarah MacMillan
George Reeves as Bob Willard
John Halliday as Fitzpatrick
Sara Allgood as Mary, Johnny’s Mother
Billy Roy as Johnny
Frank Conlan as Old Ned

Oscar Context:
The film was nominated for the Best Original Score—Dramatic or Comedy Picture, but did not win.


TCM showed the movie on January 3, 2020.