The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)

The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)

Run time: Passed 109 min
Rating: 7.1
Genres: Biography | Drama | Romance
Director: Sidney Franklin
Writers: Rudolph Besier, Ernest Vajda
Stars: Norma Shearer, Fredric March, Charles Laughton
Storyline
The first and best of two films depicting the real-life romance of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett in defiance of the opposition of Elizabeth’s tyrannical father.  Franklin remade the film, in colour and almost shot for shot, and much less successfully in 1957.
Details:
Release Date: 21 September 1934 (USA)

4 responses to “The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)”

  1. rgkeenan says:

    Although 1934 was the year of Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, and IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, MGM successfully translated this heavy-handed stage drama into a hit. Norma Shearer plays poet Elisabeth Barrett, who is virtually s shut-in, but has a will to live and in one touching scene, she looks through the window in her room to the outside, a flurry of emotions just shifting through her marble face, hinting of much inner pain.

    That she later becomes the object of the affections of writer Robert Browning (Fredric March) sparks the already over-protectiveness of her father Edward Moulton Barrett into showing his true colors is part of the drama; he plans on keeping her home, and one look at his fierce eyes reveal a lot more than the Studio and the censors were allowing to actively display on camera except for one scene, in which he confronts Elisabeth near the end. One only has to watch at both actors’ body language to know that they understood their characters: he is a control-freak who has sublimated designs on his own daughter and she knows it and is horrified.

    If it’s a little too tied to its flowery origins on the stage, this is permissible, because it does make for entertaining viewing and despite some of the performances showing their age, it doesn’t tire. If the Academy had introduced the Supporting Actor/Actress category Una O’Connor would have won by default, giving a strong performance as Elisabeth’s maid and confidant. One of the strong productions of 1934 and one of Norma Shearer’s most textured performances as a woman of indomitable will who refuses to be tied down, not just to a chair, but to her own life at home under her father’s unhealthy shadow.

  2. IMDBReviewer says:

    The Barretts of Wimpole Street is one of the finest play-to-film adaptations of the 1930s. Although its script, photography, and direction are all first-rate, it is still the grand performances that make this film appealing even today. The above-the-title trio had all won Academy Awards in the two or three years prior, and demonstrate their supreme thespian abilities in their roles. Towering above all is Norma Shearer, as bedridden invalid Elizabeth "Ba" Barrett. Although she speaks the lines in that sophisticated voice of hers, the scenes that strike the viewer greatest are ironically those without dialog at all. Take for example the scene immediately following her first visit with Browning. After he leaves her bedroom, the invalid struggles to her feet, and in one take, tries with all her heart to get over to the window so she can see him once more, leaving. In another scene, set a few months later, she is informed that Mr. Browning has come to visit her. Again, overcoming her bedridden state, she not only gets up, but also decides to go to see him downstairs instead of having him come up. Her eyes and hands express so much, and as she descends (without much dialog), her whole self-sense seem to elevate. Only a short while later, however, her domineering father orders her back upstairs. He wishes to carry her, but she insists on walking. In a magnificent William Daniels close-up, the camera stays on her face as her father tells her off camera that she will not succeed. Shearer’s genius here lies in the change of facial expressions, as her reactions to her father’s criticisms finally take their toll and she collapses. Quite simply, its another of Norma Shearer’s brilliant characterizations, and one of the most different roles the actress ever played. March, second-billed as Browning, is a little histrionic. He gave a better performance opposite Shearer in 1932’s Smilin’ Through, but his performance here does not detract from the film, and his forcefulness seems strangely potent at times. As the glowering father, Laughton is amazing. The infamous "gleam" in his eye is there in many scenes, and when he carries his daughter up the stairs, its almost perverted (albeit brilliant). Maureen O’Sullavan is phenomenal as Elizabeth’s young-and-in-love, rebellious sister, and Una O’Connor is in great form as her graceful maid.

    A feast for fine acting, The Barretts of Wimpole Street is one of the most appealing of all costume dramas of Hollywood’s golden age. It still stands (as it shall for many years to come) as a lasting tribute to two larger-than-life literary icons.

    ****point of interest****in 1957, Barretts was admirably remade by the same director (Sidney Franklin) at M-G-M (as was this version). Although not nearly as good as the original, fine performances from Jennifer Jones (Elizabeth) and John Gielgud (Papa Barrett) again captured on film Rudolph Besier’s classic roles.

  3. IMDBReviewer says:

    Love brings both ecstasy and turmoil to the troubled home of THE BARRETTS OF WIMPOLE STREET.

    With its usual opulent style, MGM relates the story of the romance between two of England’s most celebrated poets of the 19th Century, Elizabeth Barrett & Robert Browning. Not at all stuffy, the film lets the especially strong performances and the (mostly) true facts of the case propel the drama. It’s inspiring to see what adversities real people have had to overcome to still achieve happiness and contribute to society.

    Three vivid performances dominate the film. As Elizabeth, Norma Shearer is radiant, conveying the emotions of a woman grasping at the chance for sudden, unbelievable love, while still having to fight off paternal attentions which have become sickly & diseased. Fredric March as Browning fairly explodes on the screen, full of energy and vitality, anxious to express his honest adoration for Shearer, come what may. His great enthusiasm is played with effective contrast as compared to Shearer’s enforced languor.

    But stealing his every scene is Charles Laughton, fascinatingly perverse as Mr. Barrett, whose warped personality & twisted sensual ego forces him to demand complete, unswerving obedience from his terrified offspring. His eyes hint at passions best left undisturbed and even in his final screen moments he’s utterly unrepentant, still plotting pain to punish others.

    An excellent supporting cast adds immensely to the film: lovely Maureen O’Sullivan as Elizabeth’s sister Henrietta, desperate for freedom from her awful home; affable Ralph Forbes, one of the most under-appreciated actors of the era, as her earnest suitor; birdlike Una O’Connor as Shearer’s loyal maid; genial Ferdinand Munier & blunt Leo G. Carroll as Shearer’s supportive doctors; flighty Marion Clayton as Laughton’s silly niece; and Ian Wolfe as her foppish suitor.

    The other Barrett siblings are portrayed by Katharine Alexander (Arabel), Vernon Downing (Octavius), Neville Clark (Charles), Matthew Smith (George), Robert Carleton (Alfred), Allan Conrad (Henry) & Peter Hobbes (Septimus).

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    Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861), the eldest of ten children, lived a very happy childhood by all accounts, free to write and pursue her intellectual interests. But after the death of her mother, Mary, and a serious spinal injury resulting from a fall, her life began to darken. The death by drowning of her brother, Edward, brought on an emotional reaction so severe that she became a virtual recluse. Financial problems eventually brought her family to reside at 50 Wimpole Street, London, in 1838. She continued to write and publish poetry, some of which was very highly acclaimed and brought her to the attention of the poet Robert Browning (1812-1889), six years her junior. Highly emotional, his first telegram to her in January of 1845 went straight to the point: "I love your verses with all of my heart, dear Miss Barrett. I do, as I say, love these books with all my heart–and I love you too." He visited her and they fell passionately in love, finally marrying on September 12, 1846. Elizabeth continued living at her father’s home for another week before escaping to Florence, Italy, with Browning. (Her father, who really was a wicked old sinner, never forgave her. He finally died in 1856.) Elizabeth’s health improved in Italy, and she gave birth to her only child, Robert Wiedmann Browning, in 1849. Her love poems to her husband were published in 1850. Entitled Sonnets from the Portuguese, they became her most famous work. Elizabeth’s last years were spent busily involved in the anti-slavery movement, spiritualism & Italian politics. Her health relapsed and she died in her husband’s arms in 1861.

  4. rgkeenan says:

    The beautiful Canadian actress Norma Shearer starred in this tense and unusual love story based on the true-life romance of Elizabeth Barrett and the poet Robert Browning. Charles Laughton’s performance as her possessive and pathologically jealous father was one of the finest in his outstanding career. Although incest was the film’s unspoken subtext, contemporary sensitivities prevented it from being spelt-out. That was not to deter Laughton who famously remarked that though they could prevent him from speaking of it, they could not censor the glint in his eye! An outstanding film.

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