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Having missed the book the critic cannot say how faithfully the movie reproduces the original "Anthony Adverse," but the Hollywood version just misses being a fine show.
"Anthony Adverse" is of uneven power. For minutes it grips the audience in the spell of its theme, while in spots it is agonizingly slow and dull. The movie would improve fifty percent if three-quarters of an hour were lopped off.
The action commences in 18th century France during the honeymoon of a Spanish nobleman with the young daughter of an English merchant. Enraged at being cuckolded by an English officer, the Spaniard allows his wife to die in childbirth, and he deposits the child in a convent. Unknowingly apprenticed to his own grandfather, the child grows up to become the heir and hope of the family firm, the Casa da Bonnyfeather.
At this point Napoleon invades Italy, and Anthony is packed off to Havana to wind up his grandfather's business. He discovers affairs in such a mess that he must go to Africa and trade in slaves in order to collect the Bonnyfeather debts. Several long, embittering years pass before Anthony can return to Europe. In the meanwhile old Bonnyfeather has died, and Napoleon has taken Anthony's wife as his mistress. Desepite attempts on his life by the Marquis, Anthony reaches Paris and discovers that he has a son. The movie ends as Anthony Sr. and Jr. set off to America to found a new family.
Four complete plots weave in and out of the movie. There is the tragic love of Anthony's mother, the cruel ambition of the Spaniard to gain the Bonnyfeather fortune, and the romance between Anthony and his wife which is ruined by accidents outside their control. They are side issues to the main theme, which is Anthony's ambtion to make his name known and respected and to found a strong family.
Unfortunately director Leroy devotes a lot of film to developing this profusion of plot, and the impact of the central idea is lost. Anthony is a tragic figure hounded by misfortune. He is unable to take his bride to Havana because a letter she leaves him is blown away by the wind. Business conditions force him to spend many years in Africa while he loses touch with his wife. When the lovers are finally united she has become so compromised in court intrigue and gossip that she cannot join him in America. The great ambition of the orphan boy is to found a family, but the unsettled times make his hopes difficult to fulfill.
The actors are competent, but in the first half the movie drags greatly. Action is fast and moving after Anthony's return to Europe, and the last part of the picture is fine entertainment. The movie simply takes too long to get started.
Robert Benchly has the audience rolling in the aisles with his short, "How to Vote," and he is followed by an amusing Mickey Mouse and some news reels. An evening spent at the University is worth while.
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