Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Birthday Tribute to Joan Fontaine

Actress Joan Fontaine turned 93 years old yesterday.

The Oscar-winning Fontaine is part of a relatively unique family -- her sister, Olivia de Havilland, is also an Oscar-winning actress. de Havilland turned 94 last summer. Unfortunately, as most film fans are aware, the sisters have been estranged for many years.

My favorite Fontaine performance has always been her role as the Second Mrs. DeWinter in REBECCA (1940), for which I believe she should have won the Oscar. Instead, she received a consolation Oscar the following year for another Hitchcock film, SUSPICION (1941).

I've seen SUSPICION multiple times, though not in recent years; I never particularly cared for that film, but suspect a lot of my reaction had to do with Cary Grant's ambiguous lead role, as a man who was obviously meant to be a murderer but was saved from that fate in the final scenes only because he was...Cary Grant. I hope to take a fresh look at SUSPICION before too long.

Other favorite Fontaine performances include the title role in JANE EYRE (1943), which I've enjoyed many times over the years, and the devious Christabel in BORN TO BE BAD (1950), a film I enjoyed tremendously when I first saw it a year ago.

Earlier this year I was gifted with a copy of the hard-to-find Fontaine film THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943) daughters have already enjoyed it, and I've been savoring looking forward to this film, which has been on my viewing wish list for years. Somehow it's fun just knowing it's waiting for me, but that's another one I really need to move to the top of my stack soon! I've been wanting to view it at just the right moment, as I expect seeing the film to be something of an emotional experience on multiple levels. It has a remarkable cast including Charles Boyer, Alexis Smith, Brenda Marshall, Charles Coburn, Peter Lorre, Joyce Reynolds, Jean Muir, and Dame May Whitty.

Other Fontaine films I'm still looking forward to seeing for the very first time include GUNGA DIN (1939) -- hard to believe I haven't seen a film starring Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.! -- THIS ABOVE ALL (1942), FROM THIS DAY FORWARD (1946), LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (1947), SEPTEMBER AFFAIR (1950), and IVANHOE (1952).

The Self-Styled Siren posted a great review of Fontaine's IVY (1947) earlier this week. It costars Herbert Marshall (one of the really great movie voices) and sounds fascinating.

There's also a nice photo post at Discovering Ida, and Olivia and Joan: Sisters of the Silver Screen marked the day by linking to a radio production of FROM THIS DAY FORWARD, starring Fontaine and Mark Stevens.

Fontaine films previously reviewed here: NO MORE LADIES (1935), a tiny role which was her first film credit, billed as Joan Burfield, and THE WOMEN (1939), a small but noticeable part which helped boost her career into leading roles.

Miss Fontaine's birthday week seems like the perfect time to express appreciation for her role in providing so many hours of excellent entertainment, with the promise of much more to enjoy in the future.

October 22, 2011 Update: Here's links for Joan Fontaine movies reviewed in the past year: THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943), SEPTEMBER AFFAIR (1950), DARLING, HOW COULD YOU! (1951), and FLIGHT TO TANGIER (1953).

October 22, 2012 Update: Joan Fontaine movies seen in the past year: MAID'S NIGHT OUT (1938), FROM THIS DAY FORWARD (1946), and UNTIL THEY SAIL (1957). There are additional thoughts on Fontaine's work in the introduction to my repost.

More reviews: THE MAN WHO FOUND HIMSELF (1937), SKY GIANT (1938), and SUSPICION (1941).

2013 Update: More reviews! Here's YOU CAN'T BEAT LOVE (1937), VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1961), and LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (1948).

December 15, 2013 Update: Joan Fontaine Dies at 96.

2014 Update: Reviews of FRENCHMAN'S CREEK (1944), IVY (1947), and GUNGA DIN (1939). Additionally, I wrote a tribute to Joan for ClassicFlix.

2016 Update: Here's a review of THE AFFAIRS OF SUSAN (1945). Also: A new review of SUSPICION (1941) seen on Warner Archive Blu-ray.

2018 Update: Here are reviews of THE BIGAMIST (1953) and BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (1956).

2019 Update: Here's a review of REBECCA (1940), seen in a nitrate print at the Egyptian Theatre.

2020 Updates: Here's a review of Joan in KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS (1948) and A Tribute to Joan Fontaine, adapted from my 2014 tribute to the actress at ClassicFlix.

2021 Update: Here's a new review: THE DUKE OF WEST POINT (1938).

2022 Update: Here's a review of the Blu-ray release of IVANHOE (1952).


Blogger Audrey said...

You have The Constant Nymph?! Wow, that is awesome since it is so hard to find. Is it a good copy?

3:09 PM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

Where did "The Constant Nymph" come from????? I'd really like to see it sometime. I loved the book.
I also don't like Suspicion because Cary Grant's character had to turn out OK at the end. Grant does such a good job playing a manipulative charmer too bad studio management would allow the sinister ending.

4:03 PM  
Blogger Citizen Screen said...

Laura -

Enjoyable write-up as always. You note a few films I need to add to my must-see list, But, I have seen "The Women" a few times and don't remember seeing Fontaine in that. Guess that one's gong to the front of the list!



4:18 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you so much for the feedback, Aurora, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Fontaine is really touching in THE WOMEN; it's a relatively small role but it helped launch her to larger roles. Enjoy!

Best wishes,

11:06 PM  

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