Since Joan Fontaine turned 90 last Monday, on October 22, 2007, perhaps this is an appropriate moment to re-evaluate some of her work. I find her to be a truly interesting actress in a few films, some of which are little seen now.

Despite a shaky career start, (compared to that of her sister Olivia de Havilland, at least), as the monotonously sweet heroine in B movies at RKO in the '30s, and a marked tendency to rely on her considerable ladylike hauteur in later roles, Joan Fontaine appeared to exceptional effect in a handful of films in the 1940s.

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Since Joan Fontaine turned 90 last Monday, on October 22, 2007, perhaps this is an appropriate moment to re-evaluate some of her work. I find her to be a truly interesting actress in a few films, some of which are little seen now.

Despite a shaky career start, (compared to that of her sister Olivia de Havilland, at least), as the monotonously sweet heroine in B movies at RKO in the '30s, and a marked tendency to rely on her considerable ladylike hauteur in later roles, Joan Fontaine appeared to exceptional effect in a handful of films in the 1940s.

" />

Since Joan Fontaine turned 90 last Monday, on October 22, 2007, perhaps this is an appropriate moment to re-evaluate some of her work. I find her to be a truly interesting actress in a few films, some of which are little seen now.

Despite a shaky career start, (compared to that of her sister Olivia de Havilland, at least), as the monotonously sweet heroine in B movies at RKO in the '30s, and a marked tendency to rely on her considerable ladylike hauteur in later roles, Joan Fontaine appeared to exceptional effect in a handful of films in the 1940s.

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Joan Fontaine: You Don’t Know Me

Since Joan Fontaine turned 90 last Monday, on October 22, 2007, perhaps this is an appropriate moment to re-evaluate some of her work. I find her to be a truly interesting actress in a few films, some of which are little seen now.

Despite a shaky career start, (compared to that of her sister Olivia de Havilland, at least), as the monotonously sweet heroine in B movies at RKO in the ’30s, and a marked tendency to rely on her considerable ladylike hauteur in later roles, Joan Fontaine appeared to exceptional effect in a handful of films in the 1940s.

When Fontaine had the opportunity to work with imaginative directors with a distinctive point of view, she had a run of movies that captured something poetic and yet fiercely determined in her characters. Few other actresses had quite her luck, or her ability to communicate the foolhardy romanticism and vulnerability that can live inside a young woman, teetering on the brink of maturity and self-knowledge.

Mention the name of Joan Fontaine today, and you’ll most likely evoke an extreme reaction from classic movie spectators. The actress may be reviled by those who find Fontaine to be coldly elegant and for many she may be more well-known for an alleged “feud” with her sister, Olivia de Havilland than for her own dramatic work. Others may cherish her work from Rebecca (1940) on, despite, or because of the remarkably uneven nature of her career. I find her most appealing films to be among her least seen by the general public. For the purposes of this brief article, I’ll concentrate on three films that deserve mention, which are This Above All (1942), The Constant Nymph 1943), and Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948). Only the last film is readily available on dvd, and I have not seen it on broadcast cable in some time.

A friend once told me that he disliked her because “she plays such a human doormat” in so many allegedly “weepie” movies. Hmmm, has he seen Born to Be Bad or Ivy, in which Fontaine attempted to tailor her proper appearance into that of a noirish bad girl and a rather complex, gothic vixen? His comment reminded me that her somewhat tattered reputation may be affected by the fact that the world has definitely moved on since her best films were made. (It also made me wonder if a good dose of estrogen might be a prerequisite for enjoying her films?). At her best, Fontaine often seems to have been playing women not just as the movies allowed us to idealize them. A feisty Katharine Hepburn or a fast-talking Rosalind Russell may be more remembered now, but Joan Fontaine‘s seemingly placid, passive characters, who, beneath the surface, are also flawed human beings, trapped by society’s definitions of the female role and often only dimly aware of and vexed by her own turbulent nature and longings. This contradictory figure that she could embody so well has ceased to be dramatically viable, but I’m not sure if it is still a valid creation, reflecting society and nature.

Indeed, a strong case could be made that Joan Fontaine‘s early screen persona as the fair flower of English womanhood reflected a Victorian ideal which had already passed out of reality by the time Hollywood Anglophiles tried to bring this type to the screen in numerous American films glorifying the British Empire, such as The Lives of the Bengal Lancer, Wee Willie Winkie and one of Fontaine’s better early films, Gunga Din (1939), directed by George Stevens. Her role as the human monkey wrench being thrown into the well-oiled adventures of Victor McLaglen, Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. is negligible, except for the director’s devotion of a few moments of film time to some rapturous closeups of Fontaine and Fairbanks, (which would, as film historian Rudy Behlmer pointed out, provide Stevens with a template for the Montgomery Clift-Elizabeth Taylor extreme closeups in the memorable A Place in the Sun years later.).

Fontaine, (born Joan De Beauvoir De Havilland), came by her air of aristocratic refinement and insecurity naturally through her parents’ ancestry (which included 2 English kings), and her parent’s divorce and eventual second marriages, which contributed to the very rough childhood of the two sisters in Japan (where the girls were born) and California, (where their formidable mother married a dictatorial martinet when they were still very young). Joan Fontaine‘s slight blonde prettiness combined with a hesitant manner suggested some unanswered yearning within her that made several of her characters particularly memorable. Oddly, it seems to have also led to her being cast in roles in which she is often described as “plain”. Well, maybe that was true by the flashier standards of old Hollywood. Perhaps it’s the contrast between the composed surface that Fontaine could show to the world and the turmoil beneath this veneer that made her an effective figure. What one critic has termed “her curious passivity as a female figure” allowed the actress to convincingly play roles as varied as a naïve gamine to an icy bitch when directed by a Hitchcock, George Cukor, George Stevens, Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, Edmund Goulding, Robert Wise, Ida Lupino, Nicholas Ray and Max Ophüls.

One director who managed to bring out the banked fires in the actress by exploiting the apparently sophisticated young woman’s insecurities was Alfred Hitchcock during the filming of Rebecca(1940). The director’s “divide and conquer” tactics, encouraging Fontaine to believe that she was an “outcast from the Hollywood British colony” and David O. Selznick‘s exacting demands as producer, as well as the notoriously brusque treatment she received from a disgruntled Laurence Olivier, who would have preferred Vivien Leigh in the part, combined to make Fontaine feel as though she was the nameless central character of Daphne du Maurier’s novel. Apparently, Hitchcock found that Joan was a suitably malleable actress and he had her repeat his idea of another not entirely cool blonde in the less successful adaptation of Frederick Iles novel, Suspicion (1942). Joan Fontaine received an Academy Award for this performance, (though arguably she deserved it more for Rebecca than Suspicion).

Actually, as iconic as her characters could be, the rather naïve, tentative characters that Ms. Fontaine sometimes played best, were, in some ways, passé even then. Looking back on that period, it occurred to me that the best remembered films of that war torn era often showed women as strong and independent partners with men.

Fontaine‘s only real war movie, This Above All(1942), directed by Anatole Litvakand based on a fairly adult novel by the author of the Lassie series, Eric Knight, paired her with a class conscious deserter (played by Tyrone Power, who, you will pardon my observing, is at his most earnestly puppyish here, with just a hint of the Larry Darrell to come in The Razor’s Edge in ’46). The film presents pure Joan as Prudence Cathaway—oh, that name(!)—an embodiment of valiant English womanhood, whose eloquently expressed love for him inspires Power to return to the call of his country. In a well written and beautifully delivered wartime propaganda speech, Fontaine points out that the England Power loathes also made him. In order to have a chance in the future to take on the inequities of the society, she finds herself urging him to fight against the greater evil of fascism, despite the fact that she knows he stands a good chance of being killed. Fontaine fully communicates this awareness via the break in her voice as she mouths the words, steeling herself to be alone, trying to convince herself as well as her lover of the necessity of her valediction.

Despite this apparent contradiction in her behavior, the sincerity of Fontaine‘s performance grounds the movie and contributes to its more moving moments, especially when she finds herself, against her personal interests, pointing out to Tyrone Power that they happen to have been born in a time when the common good is more important than personal satisfaction. She imbues her most touching scenes with a tragic understanding of the transience of life, and a determination to cherish the ephemeral moments as they pass by. It is a soap opera, but one with more than a grain of real feeling, enhanced by the glorious black and white cinematography of the masterly Arthur Miller and Alfred Newman‘s sweeping musical score.

The film that Joan Fontaine made immediately after This Above All would prove that the sensitivity she displayed since Rebecca were not entirely a fluke, or a well-packaged Hitchcock product, but evidence of a gifted actress. The Constant Nymph, which was directed by Edmund Goulding in 1943, was later recalled by the actress as “the happiest motion-picture assignment of [her] career.”

The closed set, the attention to detail, the luxury of rehearsal time, a fine cast, as well as her clear affinity for the character that she played blended together to make an intensely felt movie. The Constant Nymph (1943) is probably Joan Fontaine‘s least known film today, despite the fact that the actress received an Oscar nomination for the role. Due to the terms of the author Margaret Kennedy’s will, this Warner Brothers film has been mired in litigious limbo for decades. The generosity of a friend who lives abroad enabled me to view a dvd-r of this movie recently.

The book of “The Constant Nymph”, which has been filmed three times, (including once with Fontaine’s first husband, Brian Aherne in the Charles Boyer role in an English production in 1934), is concerned with a family of bohemian musicians, the Sangers. The character of Tessa, embodied beautifully by Fontaine, is a teenage girl with a heart condition who has been hopelessly in love with an older, self-absorbed family friend since childhood. The excellent cast of the film is led by Charles Boyer as the oblivious composer, Alexis Smith as his aristocratic, neglected wife, and in a welcome, if brief, benign part, Peter Lorre, is glimpsed playing a generous family friend who marries one of Joan’s sisters in the film (Brenda Marshall).

Fontaine, who played a convincing near child, received enormous support from Goulding during the production. Goulding was described by the director’s biographer, Matthew Kennedy, as often having sat next to Fontaine at the rehearsal table, and when “discussing a scene, he said tenderly, ‘There are women in the audience who will know and understand.’ That was all she needed to hear to deliver the desired effect.”

In sharp contrast to the insecure shadow of a character in Hitchcock’s Rebecca and the paranoid wife in Suspicion, Fontaine‘s Tessa is endearingly fey, blissfully and enthusiastically unaware of her wild hair or ragamuffin appearance and full of tenderly expressed, unrequited love for Boyer. The only other actress who even came close to this kind of unself-conscious abandon to the world’s expectations, (and certainly to Hollywood’s expectations), might possibly be Audrey Hepburn in a very different film, Roman Holiday.

Bringing this novel to the screen, of course, forced the filmmakers to allude to the emotions and half-realized desires of the characters. The book could be much more explicit about the implications of what today would probably become a Lolita-like story, but at the time the Production Code standards may actually have enhanced the romantic theme of the film. The restrictions on the storytelling and the taste with which Goulding and his co-workers used in bringing this story to the screen helped to underline the spiritual element of the tale.

The secret bond that Boyer and Fontaine form as she gradually becomes his muse, inspiring him to write a surpassingly beautiful work, parallels the girl’s evolution from child to young woman. All the characters’ conflicting emotions, including those of Alexis Smith, whose role as a catalyst for the revelation of hidden emotions, are carefully nuanced. Smith, who does what may be the best work of her career in her confrontation scenes with Boyer and Fontaine brings unexpected force and poignancy to her part of the rejected spouse.
The discretion forced on Edmund Goulding and his actors actually intensifies the emotional crescendo of the story, which is magnified by the beauty of Korngold‘s lush score, particularly during the climactic symphonic tone poem, entitled “Tomorrow”.

Charles Boyer, whose character up until the tragic denouement is fairly sketchy, comes to life in the last scenes when he realizes too late that Tessa (Fontaine) is the love of his life, despite the gulf between them of years and experience. It’s clear that Joan Fontaine had an affinity with her character and her director throughout this film.

As she said once, “Eddie knew the problems of actors and he solved them—the need for reassurance, to feel a part of the whole. To be cosseted, to be aware of the subtleties of the role, to be gently, kindly guided. He did this for me in ‘The Constant Nymph’.” The legal obscurity that keeps this film from exhibition on television and in commercial dvd is truly unfortunate. As one commentator noted, “it may be one of the most truly romantic movies of the 1940s.”

The final film in our trilogy may also be the most satisfying artistically and emotionally. Directed by Max Ophüls, Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948) begins around 1900 with a Viennese man (Louis Jourdan) preparing to leave before a dreaded duel in the morning. He receives a letter from a woman (Joan Fontaine) he doesn’t know, stating that “By the time you read this letter, I may be dead…. If this reaches you, you will know how I became yours when you didn’t know who I was or even that I existed.”

Based on a novella by Austrian Stefan Zweig, this film explores how the idea of love and the longing for it have warped the life of the Lisa character (Fontaine) since childhood. Told episodically in evocative flashbacks framed by Fontaine’s voiceover, it is a portrait of a girl’s and later a woman’s devotion—or is it enslavement?—to an abstract ideal of romantic love begins when an adolescent Lisa is beguiled by her new neighbor’s luxurious looking furniture as it is moved into the house next door. When she first hears him playing the piano next door, and before she sees Stefan (Jourdan), she is smitten and immediately concerned that she sensitively perceives him to be an unhappy man. As Lisa embraces her fantasy of love for this unseen neighbor, Fontaine, using her beautifully modulated voice in narration of the letter, explains that “as hard as it may be for you to realize, from that moment on I was in love with you. Quite consciously, I began to prepare myself for you.” Eventually, this illusory commitment to Jourdan extends to a refusal of a proposal from a likely suitor, since, as Lisa explains, she is already spoken for.

Each episode after this follows Lisa as she pursues the jaded pianist, projecting on him her yearning for a romantic ideal, which may be unattainable and may be illusory. She eventually becomes involved with him, relishing every moment of her time with Stefan, which to him is nothing but another diversion, almost a one-night stand. Lisa never fully faces the reality of her situation, even when her beloved leaves her coldly and she marries another man hurriedly when she finds herself pregnant. All this, in less skilled hands than Ophüls, wouldn’t have achieved the level of film artistry without the director’s sympathetic, yet critically roaming eye follows his characters relentlessly, particularly the woman incarnated by Fontaine. The beautiful adaptation of the source material by Howard Koch helps to lift this movie above the ordinary level of a “woman’s picture, as does the exquisitely detailed art direction by Alexander Golitzen and cinematography of Franz Planer, so evident in such scenes as when Stefan and Lisa take a ride on an amusement park “train trip” with a man cranking a roll of scenery mimicking the unfurling of various illusory landscapes for the couple who are self-consciously beginning their pretense (for him, at least), of a romantic involvement.
As one essayist wrote in analyzing Ophuls’ film, “Letter From an Unknown Woman is at once an elegy to the tragic waste brought about by this immersion in an impossible dream, and a celebration of the triumph of the dream over time; in the paradox lies the film’s poignance” This illusion gives shape to Lisa’s life while it robs it of any reality. Only at the end of the film do we realize that the letter that she has sent to her dissolute former lover is meant as a cri de coeur: a final plea that her existence should finally be acknowledged by this vain and shallow man, who cannot remember ever knowing her. His lack of realization of her love for him, and his complete inability to give love is a fact that, in the end, kills her.

The demure, old fashioned, almost Victorian persona that Joan Fontaine had honed for a decade on film before this project found full flower in this movie.

Her depth of characterization is complete here, expressed in her rigid body language, her almost fearful glances at Stefan in one of the few actual encounters she has with him, and her self-aggrandizing yet heartbreaking expression as she sees him leaving on a train. Joan Fontaine had a gift for expressing the foolishness of the all too hasty heart.

As Hollywood changed, Fontaine never again had an opportunity to explore the depth of her talent as she did in Letter from an Unknown Woman, and slipped back into playing stock bad girls, pleasant companions, idealized heroines, and dissatisfied women with sharp tongues in such films as Born to Be Bad, September Affair, Ivanhoe, and Tender is the Night. This film, which like the other two films discussed here had, according to producer John Houseman, a mixed critical reception and was not a financial success at the time of its release. Since then, this movie has found an audience and is the widely available on dvd. Maybe someday, even those who think they don’t like Joan Fontaine as an actress will discover these movies. Each offers a more complex and varied portrait of a woman in conflict with reality.

Sources:
Behlmer, Rudy, Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years at Twentieth Century Fox, Grove Press, 1995.
Fontaine, Joan, No Bed of Roses, Morrow, 1978.
Houseman, John, Front & Center 1942/1955, Simon & Schuster, 1984.
Kennedy, Matthew, Edmund Goulding’s Dark Victory, Univ. of Wisc.Press, 2004.
Pye, Douglas, Falling Women and Fallible Narrators, (Criticism of Max Ophuls Work), CineAction, Spring, 2002.

51 Responses Joan Fontaine: You Don’t Know Me
Posted By russell mcclurg : October 25, 2007 12:33 pm

It's interesting that these films should remain unknown to the general public. I recall seeing The Constant Nymph as a boy and at the time I thought that Fontaine was a girl close to my age. The music is also very good. This Above All is shown on Fox Movie Channel once in awhile. The book is quite a contrast to the sanitized movie. Very interesting article and well written.

Posted By russell mcclurg : October 25, 2007 12:33 pm

It's interesting that these films should remain unknown to the general public. I recall seeing The Constant Nymph as a boy and at the time I thought that Fontaine was a girl close to my age. The music is also very good. This Above All is shown on Fox Movie Channel once in awhile. The book is quite a contrast to the sanitized movie. Very interesting article and well written.

Posted By MDR : October 25, 2007 4:35 pm

It is most unfortunate that the three films you have reviewed for us are not (yet?) available on DVD.  I've wanted to see Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948) for some time now.

Posted By MDR : October 25, 2007 4:35 pm

It is most unfortunate that the three films you have reviewed for us are not (yet?) available on DVD.  I've wanted to see Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948) for some time now.

Posted By moira finnie : October 26, 2007 9:00 am

Hi MDR, Actually, Letter From an Unknown Woman, as I mentioned, is the only one of the three that is available on dvd, but it would be great if TCM could eventually include this RKO release as part of its programming, allowing a wider audience an introduction to a masterpiece. This Above All would be a great addition to TCM, but I realize that not all Fox products are readily acquired, (especially since the FMC provides an outlet on cable for them). The real shame is that The Constant Nymph cannot be seen, though, according to some rather contradictory sources that I've come across, the copyright may become part of the public domain in 2017 or 2018, freeing the film from litigation.

Posted By moira finnie : October 26, 2007 9:00 am

Hi MDR, Actually, Letter From an Unknown Woman, as I mentioned, is the only one of the three that is available on dvd, but it would be great if TCM could eventually include this RKO release as part of its programming, allowing a wider audience an introduction to a masterpiece. This Above All would be a great addition to TCM, but I realize that not all Fox products are readily acquired, (especially since the FMC provides an outlet on cable for them). The real shame is that The Constant Nymph cannot be seen, though, according to some rather contradictory sources that I've come across, the copyright may become part of the public domain in 2017 or 2018, freeing the film from litigation.

Posted By Feaito : October 27, 2007 4:47 pm

Excellent essay on one of my favorite actresses and which discusses flawlessly two of my top 5 favorite films: "The Constant Nymph" and "Letter from an Unknown Woman".Very well done Moira! Your style is flawless and exquisite. You should write a book!

Posted By Feaito : October 27, 2007 4:47 pm

Excellent essay on one of my favorite actresses and which discusses flawlessly two of my top 5 favorite films: "The Constant Nymph" and "Letter from an Unknown Woman".Very well done Moira! Your style is flawless and exquisite. You should write a book!

Posted By Classicreelist : November 1, 2007 1:01 am

In your discussion of Joan Fontaine, I wished you would have commented on her best comedy, "The Affairs of Susan." In that film she played a woman from rural Rhode Island who takes in a Broadway producer who just wants to get away from an overpowering actress who he dislikes. One thing leads to another and we soon find Susan and the producer married and he turns her into a Broadway actress.  Soon Susan changes from the innocent, truth-at-all-costs woman to a beautiful sophisicated, glamourous star who doesn't know how to tell the truth.  She divorces the producer, then the millionaire from the West falls for her and wants to marry her.  This goes on through an intellectual man, a city man and with each new man, Susan changes her demeanor, her clothing style, her hair. These personality changes were done so effortlessly, convincingly by Miss Fontaine. She is a delight in this film and exhibits great comic timing. Along with the three movies you discussed, this one certainly should be right up there with them.  It showed her versatility and a Joan Fontaine the public hadn't seen in her previous films. "The Affairs of Susan" is an intelligent, witty, and original comedy that unfortunately has never been on VHS but AMC used to show it quite frequently.

Posted By Classicreelist : November 1, 2007 1:01 am

In your discussion of Joan Fontaine, I wished you would have commented on her best comedy, "The Affairs of Susan." In that film she played a woman from rural Rhode Island who takes in a Broadway producer who just wants to get away from an overpowering actress who he dislikes. One thing leads to another and we soon find Susan and the producer married and he turns her into a Broadway actress.  Soon Susan changes from the innocent, truth-at-all-costs woman to a beautiful sophisicated, glamourous star who doesn't know how to tell the truth.  She divorces the producer, then the millionaire from the West falls for her and wants to marry her.  This goes on through an intellectual man, a city man and with each new man, Susan changes her demeanor, her clothing style, her hair. These personality changes were done so effortlessly, convincingly by Miss Fontaine. She is a delight in this film and exhibits great comic timing. Along with the three movies you discussed, this one certainly should be right up there with them.  It showed her versatility and a Joan Fontaine the public hadn't seen in her previous films. "The Affairs of Susan" is an intelligent, witty, and original comedy that unfortunately has never been on VHS but AMC used to show it quite frequently.

Posted By Katie : November 1, 2007 1:19 pm

I am excited to find this blog and the essay re-evaluating Miss Fontaine's films.  I have always found her to be a very interesting actress to watch because she portrays her characters through facial expressions.  Just watch "Jane Eyre" where she brilliantly conveys to the audience just how she feels even though her dialogue is not that extensive.  Again in "Born to Be Bad" her facial expressions as well as body language tell more than just the words she says which are in direct contridiction to her actions. I think Joan Fontaine is a much under-appreciated and underrated actress.

Posted By Katie : November 1, 2007 1:19 pm

I am excited to find this blog and the essay re-evaluating Miss Fontaine's films.  I have always found her to be a very interesting actress to watch because she portrays her characters through facial expressions.  Just watch "Jane Eyre" where she brilliantly conveys to the audience just how she feels even though her dialogue is not that extensive.  Again in "Born to Be Bad" her facial expressions as well as body language tell more than just the words she says which are in direct contridiction to her actions. I think Joan Fontaine is a much under-appreciated and underrated actress.

Posted By moira finnie : November 1, 2007 7:45 pm

Hi Classicrealist,Thanks for the comments about The Affairs of Susan, which I wish I could've included in the article on Fontaine. Unfortunately, I've never had a chance to see it. It sounds like a pretty entertaining movie from your amusing rundown. In her autobiography, No Bed of Roses, the actress mentioned that it was an enjoyable experience, especially since she seemed at that time in her career to be hemmed in by sometimes dark dramas. Another movie that I wished could have been included was September Affair (1950), which I enjoyed very much once. It was a ruefully sentimental story but doesn't seem to be broadcast anywhere any more.  Hi Katie in Colorado,I think Jane Eyre was beautifully acted by Fontaine too. The entire production was so well cast and produced  that it made me read the book–and I'm not normally attracted to anything Gothic, even if it is Charlotte Bronte at her best! I didn't include it in the article since it has received a great deal of well-deserved attention over the years.Thanks so much for sharing your reactions and suggestions. I really appreciate it. 

Posted By moira finnie : November 1, 2007 7:45 pm

Hi Classicrealist,Thanks for the comments about The Affairs of Susan, which I wish I could've included in the article on Fontaine. Unfortunately, I've never had a chance to see it. It sounds like a pretty entertaining movie from your amusing rundown. In her autobiography, No Bed of Roses, the actress mentioned that it was an enjoyable experience, especially since she seemed at that time in her career to be hemmed in by sometimes dark dramas. Another movie that I wished could have been included was September Affair (1950), which I enjoyed very much once. It was a ruefully sentimental story but doesn't seem to be broadcast anywhere any more.  Hi Katie in Colorado,I think Jane Eyre was beautifully acted by Fontaine too. The entire production was so well cast and produced  that it made me read the book–and I'm not normally attracted to anything Gothic, even if it is Charlotte Bronte at her best! I didn't include it in the article since it has received a great deal of well-deserved attention over the years.Thanks so much for sharing your reactions and suggestions. I really appreciate it. 

Posted By Elizabeth : November 2, 2007 12:49 pm

Thank you, Moira, for your thoughtful re-evaluation of a few of Joan Fontaine's outstanding films and performances.  It has always frustrated me that her most excellent films and performances, with the exceptions of Rebecca and Suspicion, are not shown on TCM or any of the other cable channels.  People have a tendency to identify her with those two films when she exhibited a much wider range of characterizations during her career. Thank you again for the time you invested in analyzing some of her best performances.  I hope other TCM viewers will read this blog.  I agree with Katie that Miss Fontaine is a very under-rated actress.

Posted By Elizabeth : November 2, 2007 12:49 pm

Thank you, Moira, for your thoughtful re-evaluation of a few of Joan Fontaine's outstanding films and performances.  It has always frustrated me that her most excellent films and performances, with the exceptions of Rebecca and Suspicion, are not shown on TCM or any of the other cable channels.  People have a tendency to identify her with those two films when she exhibited a much wider range of characterizations during her career. Thank you again for the time you invested in analyzing some of her best performances.  I hope other TCM viewers will read this blog.  I agree with Katie that Miss Fontaine is a very under-rated actress.

Posted By Brad : November 3, 2007 9:29 am

Joan Fontaine is my favorite actress of all time. Thank you Moira for essaying what I have always believed about Miss Fontaine. The classic movie fans really don't know Joan and that is a shame.  It is time for more of her great films were available on DVD. 

Posted By Brad : November 3, 2007 9:29 am

Joan Fontaine is my favorite actress of all time. Thank you Moira for essaying what I have always believed about Miss Fontaine. The classic movie fans really don't know Joan and that is a shame.  It is time for more of her great films were available on DVD. 

Posted By Brad : November 3, 2007 11:03 am

Ouch! That last sentence should read:It is time for more of her great films to be available on DVD.So sorry about the goof!

Posted By Brad : November 3, 2007 11:03 am

Ouch! That last sentence should read:It is time for more of her great films to be available on DVD.So sorry about the goof!

Posted By Laura : November 3, 2007 10:11 pm

I just recently realized how much I enjoy Joan Fontaine's films. I had associated her with the impulsive young wife, Peggy, from The Women, but her range is extraordinary. I hope that someday The Constant Nymph will be released from copyright limbo and that every Joan Fontaine fan will get to see it. Fontaine was even terrific in Irwin Allen's less than cinematic Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

Posted By Laura : November 3, 2007 10:11 pm

I just recently realized how much I enjoy Joan Fontaine's films. I had associated her with the impulsive young wife, Peggy, from The Women, but her range is extraordinary. I hope that someday The Constant Nymph will be released from copyright limbo and that every Joan Fontaine fan will get to see it. Fontaine was even terrific in Irwin Allen's less than cinematic Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

Posted By Carl : November 4, 2007 4:51 pm

I read with delight this piece you wrote on Joan Fontaine and three of her very fine "Women's" films — all of which I have seen and enjoyed — and I am definitely a member of the male persuasion.  At the same time, I loved her in her "bad girl roles" such as Ivy and Born to be Bad.Thank you for this well-written analysis.

Posted By Carl : November 4, 2007 4:51 pm

I read with delight this piece you wrote on Joan Fontaine and three of her very fine "Women's" films — all of which I have seen and enjoyed — and I am definitely a member of the male persuasion.  At the same time, I loved her in her "bad girl roles" such as Ivy and Born to be Bad.Thank you for this well-written analysis.

Posted By deds : November 5, 2007 11:08 am

I recall seeing The Constant Nymph as a boy and at the time I thought that Fontaine was a girl close to my age. <u style="display: none">http://topfilmclub.com/</u> The music is also very good. This Above All is shown on Fox Movie Channel once in awhile. The book is quite a contrast to the sanitized movie.

Posted By deds : November 5, 2007 11:08 am

I recall seeing The Constant Nymph as a boy and at the time I thought that Fontaine was a girl close to my age. <u style="display: none">http://topfilmclub.com/</u> The music is also very good. This Above All is shown on Fox Movie Channel once in awhile. The book is quite a contrast to the sanitized movie.

Posted By Francis : November 5, 2007 10:38 pm

I have seen "The Constant Nymph" and just wanted to comment about Joan's performance.  She was simply enchanting as Tessa. I can't think of another actress of that time period who would or could have been better in the role. Joan Fontaine made Tessa Sanger one of the most unforgettable characters in all of film history. She deserved her Oscar nomination.

Posted By Francis : November 5, 2007 10:38 pm

I have seen "The Constant Nymph" and just wanted to comment about Joan's performance.  She was simply enchanting as Tessa. I can't think of another actress of that time period who would or could have been better in the role. Joan Fontaine made Tessa Sanger one of the most unforgettable characters in all of film history. She deserved her Oscar nomination.

Posted By David : November 8, 2007 7:22 pm

Because Joan Fontaine is one of my very favorite actresses, I read with interest your article and think you did a great job of bringing to everyone's attention those three classic films. I hope all three are soon available of DVD, though "The Constant Nymph" will probably not be available any time soon.  But we fans can hope and write to TCM also to urge them to do what they can to get Nymph aired.

Posted By David : November 8, 2007 7:22 pm

Because Joan Fontaine is one of my very favorite actresses, I read with interest your article and think you did a great job of bringing to everyone's attention those three classic films. I hope all three are soon available of DVD, though "The Constant Nymph" will probably not be available any time soon.  But we fans can hope and write to TCM also to urge them to do what they can to get Nymph aired.

Posted By Kristine : November 9, 2007 12:09 pm

Does anyone have the physical address of TCM and the name of the chief person in charge of either programming or TCM as a whole? I would like to write them regarding "The Constant Nymph."  Perhaps if many people write, then they will try harder to get the rights to show this movie.

Posted By Kristine : November 9, 2007 12:09 pm

Does anyone have the physical address of TCM and the name of the chief person in charge of either programming or TCM as a whole? I would like to write them regarding "The Constant Nymph."  Perhaps if many people write, then they will try harder to get the rights to show this movie.

Posted By Bob : February 25, 2008 11:29 am

I just saw the March 2008 Vanity Fair issue dedicated to Hitchcock and lo and behold there was Joan Fontaine featured on the Proust Questionnaire. So great to see a recent picture of her. She looks amazing and not much different than when she was making films, except for the white or grey hair.  Joan was always a lovely, beautiful woman and I enjoyed her answers too.  Besides being beautiful she was a most talented actress.

Posted By Bob : February 25, 2008 11:29 am

I just saw the March 2008 Vanity Fair issue dedicated to Hitchcock and lo and behold there was Joan Fontaine featured on the Proust Questionnaire. So great to see a recent picture of her. She looks amazing and not much different than when she was making films, except for the white or grey hair.  Joan was always a lovely, beautiful woman and I enjoyed her answers too.  Besides being beautiful she was a most talented actress.

Posted By moira : February 25, 2008 11:59 am

Hi Bob,Thanks for mentioning the Proust questionnaire answered by Ms. Fontaine for Vanity Fair's Hollywood issue. Happily, this talented lady seems to be doing very well indeed at age 90. Here's a link to the q & a featuring Joan Fontaine:http://tinyurl.com/2g89coCordially,Moira&nbsp;

Posted By moira : February 25, 2008 11:59 am

Hi Bob,Thanks for mentioning the Proust questionnaire answered by Ms. Fontaine for Vanity Fair's Hollywood issue. Happily, this talented lady seems to be doing very well indeed at age 90. Here's a link to the q & a featuring Joan Fontaine:http://tinyurl.com/2g89coCordially,Moira&nbsp;

Posted By Sonja : March 1, 2008 11:40 am

Thanks for the URL to the Joan Fontaine Proust Interview. Yesterday I went to the bookstore and purchased a copy to keep in my memoribilia collection. That deHavilland family must have great genes. I think Mr. deHavilland lived to be in his late nineties. I hope Joan does too if she can be in good health and mentally alert.

Posted By Sonja : March 1, 2008 11:40 am

Thanks for the URL to the Joan Fontaine Proust Interview. Yesterday I went to the bookstore and purchased a copy to keep in my memoribilia collection. That deHavilland family must have great genes. I think Mr. deHavilland lived to be in his late nineties. I hope Joan does too if she can be in good health and mentally alert.

Posted By Al Lowe : July 29, 2008 5:27 pm

I was reading old Morlock blogs and thought I’d add my two cents here. Joan Fontaine, in her best films, seemed to be a complex individual.

I share one thing with her. Her birthday, October 22. (Obviously I don’t share the same year. I was born decades later.)

An interesting cast of characters was born on Oct. 22. All of them, with one notable exception, were complex, easily misunderstood individuals. All Libras on the cusp of Scorpio.

Christopher Lloyd, Catherine Deneuve, Constance Bennett, Timothy Leary. John Reed, the American journalist buried in Russia and portrayed by Warren Beatty in Reds.

The exception is Annette Funicello, the Mousketeer who promotes peanut butter. Maybe there’s more to her than when we know although I kind of doubt it.

I was born into a family of Leos, with whom I sometimes squabble, so I was always sympathetic to Joan’s problems with Leo Olivia DeHaviland.

I know it’s not a good movie but I usually watch Born to be Bad when it’s on because Joan looked so beautiful.

And, Medusa, I hope your day is going well.

Posted By Al Lowe : July 29, 2008 5:27 pm

I was reading old Morlock blogs and thought I’d add my two cents here. Joan Fontaine, in her best films, seemed to be a complex individual.

I share one thing with her. Her birthday, October 22. (Obviously I don’t share the same year. I was born decades later.)

An interesting cast of characters was born on Oct. 22. All of them, with one notable exception, were complex, easily misunderstood individuals. All Libras on the cusp of Scorpio.

Christopher Lloyd, Catherine Deneuve, Constance Bennett, Timothy Leary. John Reed, the American journalist buried in Russia and portrayed by Warren Beatty in Reds.

The exception is Annette Funicello, the Mousketeer who promotes peanut butter. Maybe there’s more to her than when we know although I kind of doubt it.

I was born into a family of Leos, with whom I sometimes squabble, so I was always sympathetic to Joan’s problems with Leo Olivia DeHaviland.

I know it’s not a good movie but I usually watch Born to be Bad when it’s on because Joan looked so beautiful.

And, Medusa, I hope your day is going well.

Posted By Al Lowe : July 29, 2008 5:29 pm

I’m sorry. I should have looked closer. It is you, Moira, not Medusa. I know you admire her writing so I hope you don’t mind the mistake.

Posted By Al Lowe : July 29, 2008 5:29 pm

I’m sorry. I should have looked closer. It is you, Moira, not Medusa. I know you admire her writing so I hope you don’t mind the mistake.

Posted By TCM’s Movie Blog : October 2, 2008 7:42 am

[...] Of the Hollywood films, one was a bright entertainment, the unjustly neglected The Exile with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in 1947. Two were flawed but engaging attempts at film noirs, Caught (1949) with Robert Ryan,  and The Reckless Moment (1949) both starred James Mason at the start of his U.S. career. In the latter film Ophüls also evoked a fine performance as a desperate, respectable housewife from one of the most interesting actresses of the ’40s, Joan Bennett. The director also made one possible masterpiece, Letter from an Unknown Woman in 1948 with Joan Fontaine. [...]

Posted By TCM’s Movie Blog : October 2, 2008 7:42 am

[...] Of the Hollywood films, one was a bright entertainment, the unjustly neglected The Exile with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in 1947. Two were flawed but engaging attempts at film noirs, Caught (1949) with Robert Ryan,  and The Reckless Moment (1949) both starred James Mason at the start of his U.S. career. In the latter film Ophüls also evoked a fine performance as a desperate, respectable housewife from one of the most interesting actresses of the ’40s, Joan Bennett. The director also made one possible masterpiece, Letter from an Unknown Woman in 1948 with Joan Fontaine. [...]

Posted By Bettye : February 6, 2009 4:28 pm

Just read your blog about Joan Fontaine’s films. At long last I finally got a VHS copy of “The Constant Nymph.” I’d heard and read so much about the film and when that happens, I am usually disappointed. Not this time though. Joan was so believable, charming, and poignant. I wish I could get a really good copy, preferable a DVD but I know that is highly unlikely given the legal matters concerning the movie. Joan is a terrific actress and an actress who is undervalued and underappreciated, in my opinion.

Posted By Bettye : February 6, 2009 4:28 pm

Just read your blog about Joan Fontaine’s films. At long last I finally got a VHS copy of “The Constant Nymph.” I’d heard and read so much about the film and when that happens, I am usually disappointed. Not this time though. Joan was so believable, charming, and poignant. I wish I could get a really good copy, preferable a DVD but I know that is highly unlikely given the legal matters concerning the movie. Joan is a terrific actress and an actress who is undervalued and underappreciated, in my opinion.

Posted By Bettye : February 6, 2009 4:48 pm

I finally have received a copy of “The Constant Nymph.” I’ve read and heard about this film for so long. When that happens, I am usually disappointed but not this time! I loved the film, especially Joan Fontaine’s performance. The music is great and I enjoyed Boyer’s acting, but it is Fontaine’s film. Her acting is nuanced and totally believable. She a very underrated and underappreciated film actress in my opinion.

Posted By Bettye : February 6, 2009 4:48 pm

I finally have received a copy of “The Constant Nymph.” I’ve read and heard about this film for so long. When that happens, I am usually disappointed but not this time! I loved the film, especially Joan Fontaine’s performance. The music is great and I enjoyed Boyer’s acting, but it is Fontaine’s film. Her acting is nuanced and totally believable. She a very underrated and underappreciated film actress in my opinion.

Posted By Stork Club : June 21, 2010 3:23 pm

I remember her Bufferin commercial “more effective than aspirin”

Posted By Stork Club : June 21, 2010 3:23 pm

I remember her Bufferin commercial “more effective than aspirin”

Posted By Dave : March 22, 2017 2:43 pm

I’m another longtime fan of Joan Fontaine. Her ability to play
these tragic heroines in dark, gothic melodramas, seems totally unique. In Jane Eyre, she was at the height of her form, as a girl abused and discarded, from childhood. The way she had of underplaying her emotions, and allowing us to discover them
gradually, was one of her greatest gifts.
The one problem of her career, was the restrictive contract she signed with David O. Selznick. She was loaned out too often
for badly conceived films, with no choice of material. Even
a good actress loses momentum eventually, and tv changed the industry further. But her performances have held up, and today she seems modern in her acting approach. Very few have been able to stand the test of time, like Joan.

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