Saturday, November 20, 2010

Forever Amber: From Novel to Film by Gary A. Smith

"Kathleen Winsor's story of Restoration England follows the exploits of a beautiful girl named Amber St. Clare who bed-hops her way from country wench to mistress of the King of England. Forever Amber became a cause celebre' for the "watchdogs of morality" who attempted to ban the book, which went on to sell millions of copies despite their efforts. When a film version of the novel was announced these same "watchdogs" turned their attention toward Hollywood. Although controversy might sell books and cinema tickets, it can also damage reputations and prevent serious works of art from ever being taken seriously.

Forever Amber: From Novel to Film hopes to shed a new light on the much maligned movie version of the best-selling novel of the forties and show how misguided censorship can ultimately damage artistic expression."

(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

When I was in high school, one of my favorite books was Gone With the Wind; I read it countless times and fell in love with the dashing Rhett Butler. However, my best friend loved reading about all things English (Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer) and Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor was her favorite. She convinced me to read it, and I thought it was amazing! To this day, whenever we get together all these years later, we still talk about how much we love Forever Amber. When I came across this book that discusses both the novel and the film, I had to have it!

Forever Amber: From Novel to Screen gives us the inside scoop of the production, casting, and publicity nightmares that dogged the making of one of the most controversial and scandalous movies of the 1940's. This book is an absolute must for anyone who is a fan of either the novel or the movie (I have a copy of the movie on VHS tape!) as there are wonderful photographs of costume tests, actor screen tests, and many scenes (as well as deleted scenes) from the movie. Unfortunately, the original script of the movie ultimately went through so many changes due to strong censorship, that the end result ended up being more of a morality tale than the lush, lusty tale the novel tells of Amber. Strict moral codes of the studios, along with pressure from organized religious groups and self-appointed moral watchdogs, created challenges every step of the way objecting to the fact that "sinful behavior" goes unpunished or unrepented in the movie. According to this source, when the movie played in theatres, it was opened with a voice reading the following words during the opening credits:

"This is the TRAGIC story of Amber St. Clare, slave to ambition,
stranger to virtue, fated to find the wealth and power she
ruthlessly gained wither to ashes in the fire lit by passion
and fed by defiance of the eternal command -- the wages of sin is death."
p. 125

Sounds absolutely Puritan, doesn't it? But times were very different back then when even an on-screen kiss was considered controversial by some viewers.

Peggy Cummins, a beautiful young British actress, was orignally cast as Amber. She filmed daily scenes for over a month, but finally was released after she made an unconvincing "mature" Amber in later scenes. (According to this source, Vivien Leigh was approached to play the part but turned it down. Other actresses considered for the part were Lana Turner and Gene Tierney.)

Linda Darnell, a much more sophisticated actress, replaced Peggy Cummins as the new Amber.

Cornel Wilde was always the strong studio favorite for the part of Bruce Carlton. Other actors considered, but not chosen, were Errol Flynn, Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, and Douglas Fairbanks, among others.)

Amber with another of her conquests -- as mistress to Charles II.
Censors objected to the "excessive illicit sex and adultery" in the movie (although nothing is explicit) as they are made to "appear attractive." p. 103

How different the movie would be if the studio had been unrestricted in their creativity and scene selection. And what a different movie it would be if it were made by today's standards!

A fun read -- lots of trivia and interesting tidbits. (Did you know? According to this source, the original title of Kathleen Winsor's manuscript was Wings of the Morning. Due to its controversial content, there were censoring and publishing issues which caused the book's production staff headaches. One harried staff member exlaimed, "I get a little tired of Amber--it's forever Amber, forever Amber!" The phrase stuck.)

Title: Forever Amber: From Novel to Film
Author: Gary A. Smith
BearManor Media
genre: nonfiction; film industry


Miss Moppet said...

I really want to read this one! I have the movie on VHS too and I think they spoilt it with the puritanical approach - it's lovely but not as much fun as the book. Thanks for the review!

Joanne said...

Hi, Miss Moppet -- Thanks for stopping by, and I'm glad you enjoyed the review!

RenzoRienzi said...

As a pre-teen, I became fascinated by the movie and Linda Darnell. The beautiful Darnell instantly became my favorite actress and remains so to this day. I love the movie, major faults and all. It's well cast and lavishly produced. I've got to read Mr. Smith's book. Thanks for the heads-up.

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