'The Constant Nymph' and 'Escape Me Never'
16 July 2021
Warning: Spoilers
"Escape Me Never' is a follow-up to the 1943 film 'The Constant Nymph' from the same author and everything I read about it suggested that it's the inferior of the two films so I decided to watch both before writing my review. The two films have a lot in common: Margaret Kennedy wrote the novels on which both are based and the things she seems most interested in are love triangles involving sophisticated and mature upper-class women and unsophisticated and immature lower-class women, (with the latter winning the sympathies of the audience and of the male lead), impoverished composers, classical symphonic music, the Alps and London. However I agree that the former film is much the better of the two.

Both were to involve Errol Flynn but Edmund Golding, the director of TCN wanted Charles Boyer and Flynn's recent statutory rape trial made a story of his character's romance with a teenage girl problematic. However Flynn plays the role of the bohemian composer in EMN, four years later. I think he's quite good in this, especially in the early scenes where he just seems to be enjoying life and people. This might have been the role closest to his own personality. He later explains his view of life: "It's a bad business, thinking. The worst mistake anyone can make in life is taking it seriously. It's too unpredictable, too haphazard." When Eleanor Parker, playing the more materialistic upper-class lover, suggests that a music is based on "order and purpose" and that happiness is "getting what you want", Flynn replies "Who knows what they want?" it seems to have bene the theme of his life.

But at her insistence, he moves to London to work on a ballet that he dedicates to her. The scenes there become dreary due to the climate and the pressure the carefree Flynn character now feels to create his ballet. They kind of resemble the portion of 'The Sisters' nine years earlier where he is the writer husband of the ever-suffering Bette Davis. The difference is that in that film he's not a very good or very motivated writer and falls apart. Here his problem is that he turns from his true love, played by Ida Lupino toward the more beautiful and wealthier Parker before realizing how confined life with her would be and coming to his senses when Lupino's child dies.

The plot comes off more as melodrama than drama and is secondary to the lushly romantic music of the great Eric Wolfgang Korngold. Flynn performs well but Parker's character is one-dimensional and Lupino is unconvincing as a waif. She's also saddled with one of the worst hairdos a studio hairdresser ever gave a lead actress. The front of her hair is teased unto what looked like an Alp while the back of her hair is pulled down. It's so ridiculous looking that it's a distraction. And, while Korngold's music dominates both films, EMN is not really about composing and there's no statement about the music being made as there is, very strongly in TCN. Both films suffer from the lack of location filming. The Alps are back projected in EMN and made to look like Sergeant's York's Tennessee farm in TCN. Flynn would be in the real Alps making the famous abandoned film "William Tell" seven years later and Ms. Parker would be there eighteen years later in another film devoted to "The Sound of Music". Both films look a lot better than these two.

'The Constant Nymph' becomes Korngold's statement about the battle between 20th century orchestral music, as typified by George Gershwin, who found music in the noise of modern society, such as the clattering noises a train made, and the romantic music of the previous century, which emphasized emotion and melody. He apparently sees modern music as rather angry as Boyer bangs on the piano, virtually ignoring a beautiful melody he composed when under the influence of the teenaged Joan Fontaine. When she comes back into his life, he is able to find the emotions that inspired the melody and is able to convert the cacophony into the beautiful tone-poem that climaxes the film, "Tomorrow".

The main characters are much better written and performed in TCN than EMN. Fontaine, not one of my favorite actresses, is very good here as a child-woman, something he specialized in at the time, (she was actually 4 years older than Alexis Smith but you can't tell it). Her death at the end of the film, from a heart condition while listening to the music she inspired is legitimately moving and she got a deserved Oscar nomination for her role. But the key is Smith, as statuesque as ever but here given a role she can sink her teeth into and she's great as what should be an unsympathetic character. She's struggling to keep her husband and to keep her marriage together as he falls in love with his teenage muse and the decision to not make Smith's character a villain was a rare and excellent one. Charles Boyer is great as the acerbic composer who finds himself being nurtured by his young admirer. The drama, after a slow start, nearly becomes the equal of the music. But the music, (readily available on the internet), dominates both films.
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