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One More River

One More River(1934)

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teaser One More River (1934)

Published as Over the River in the United Kingdom and as One More River (1934) in the United States, John Galsworthy's last book appeared shortly after his death in 1933. It completed a final trilogy of novels that the Nobel Prize-winning author conceived as an appendage to his popular "Forsyte Saga," which chronicled the fortunes of several generations of an upper-middle-class English family through the period when the stability of the Victorian era gives way to the tensions and uncertainties of modernity. The posthumous work became a best seller on both continents. Universal snapped up the film rights and assigned the prestigious project to the studio's star director, James Whale.

To work on the adaptation, Whale turned to R. C. Sherriff, author of Journey's End, which Whale had filmed in 1930. (Sherriff had also written the script for Whale's The Invisible Man [1933] and contributed additional dialogue to his The Old Dark House [1932].) The major change Sherriff and Whale made to Galsworthy's novel was to reduce its heroine, Dinny Charwell, to a minor figure, while building up the role of her sister, Lady Clare Corven. This was done, the New York Times reported, because Dinny's story, which was largely interior, "had no pictorial value," whereas Galsworthy's account of how Clare leaves her brutal husband, Sir Gerald, and allows herself to be pursued by a new admirer, Tony Croom, "was full of dramatic action." For what thus became the lead role, Universal negotiated with MGM to borrow the well-known British actress Diana Wynyard.

Before the start of production, Whale took a holiday in England. The opportunity to immerse himself again in his native atmosphere probably helped One More River. The film was deliberately designed for the important British market, according to the New York Times, which predicted: "Because of the star-director-writer combination, it will draw the 'carriage trade' in this country, but Universal says that the real profit will come from England." Therefore authenticity was crucial, and Whale delivered it.

For his cast, Whale drew heavily on Hollywood's growing population of British thespians. Colin Clive, a Whale favorite, played Sir Gerald, and Frank Lawton played Tony. For the comic role of Lady Mont, Clare and Dinny's aunt, Whale cast the distinguished Mrs. Patrick Campbell (also on loan from MGM). The divorce trial that takes up much of the last third of the film gave good opportunities to Lionel Atwill as the husband's barrister, Alan Mowbray as the wife's barrister, and Gilbert Emery as the judge. C. Aubrey Smith, Henry Stephenson, Reginald Denny, and E. E. Clive rounded out the cast in splendid style. The only non-Britisher given an important part was New Jersey-born Jane Wyatt, sporting a plausible accent in her film debut as Dinny. Over the objections of Universal's cost-conscious production head, Whale insisted on maintaining the tradition of twice-daily tea breaks (often attended by Boris Karloff and other visitors), heightening the British-club-like exclusivity of the set.

Filmed from May to July 1934, One More River was one of the first films to be subjected to the stringent censorship of the Production Code Administration, instituted that year. The PCA rejected Sherriff's initial script because of the portrayal of Sir Gerald as a sadist. "We can see no objection," PCA head Joseph I. Breen informed the filmmakers, "to your developing the character of Corven as that of a brutal man who has beaten his wife and thus compelled her to leave him, but we cannot allow any suggestion, directly or indirectly, referring to sadism." With the aid of writer William Hurlbut, Whale revised the script to try to meet Breen's objections, but when the edited film was submitted to the PCA in July, the censors still complained that the allusions to sadism were too unmistakable. The film was only approved later in the month "after interminable hours of discussion and some retakes, to say nothing of the dubbing in of some new lines," said Breen. Still, in the finished film, more than a hint of sadism lingers in Colin Clive's characterization of Sir Gerald, especially since the film manages so conspicuously to be discreet about both the past incident of brutality that triggered Clare's departure and what takes place during the couple's night-time reunion in Clare's apartment, a meeting Whale largely conceals from the viewer.

One More River was released in August to great critical enthusiasm, which was not matched by popular interest. The mediocre box-office performance of the film, together with its genteel tone and its detailed concentration on the texture of social interaction, helped doom the film to undeserved neglect. It has rarely been revived and has received little attention from critics or historians, except in the context of auteurist appreciation of Whale's career. One More River needs rediscovery. Film historian William K. Everson considered the film "by far Hollywood's most successful attempt at putting any aspect of England on the screen." Everson wrote: "Perhaps as an Englishman I am nostalgically over-enthusiastic because I have never seen such a convincing and 'right' Hollywood film about England (not even Cavalcade [1933] or Night Must Fall [1937])... Perhaps I am also nostalgically enthusiastic because of its pleasing, gentle, civilized reflection of an England that is largely no more." As Everson observed so eloquently, the film is exceptional for its portrayal of English customs and manners. In its visual style, the film confirms Whale's immense talent, still too little known apart from Frankenstein (1931), The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man, and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Colin Clive's first appearance, in a series of four shots that showcase his stiff swagger and superior scowl, is as devastating an entrance as any ever accorded a screen villain. The courtroom sequence is an astounding piece of filmmaking, with Whale's elaborately mobile camera accentuating the vastness of the space and setting off the rich contrasts in acting styles among the participants.

"There's too much said about love, anyway," says a character near the end of One More River. The film deals with, and honors, a woman's wish to avoid talking about love. Because Clare has had the capacity to love, and to credit the language of love, beaten out of her by her brutal husband, she is unable to respond to the gentler love offered by Tony. The film's respect for her disinclination is unusual for a Hollywood film of its period, or indeed of any period, so powerful is commercial cinema's customary idealization of romantic love as motivating force, goal, and source of happiness. Extraordinary for many reasons, One More River is extraordinary above all for treating with sympathy and sensitivity an intelligent and confident woman who is incapable, for a time, of romantic love.

Producer: Carl Laemmle, Jr., R.C. Sherriff
Director: James Whale
Screenplay: R. C. Sherriff, based on the novel by John Galsworthy
Cinematography: John J. Mescall
Film Editing: Ted Kent
Art Direction: Charles D. Hall
Music: W. Franke Harling
Cast: Diana Wynyard (Clare), Frank Lawton (Tony), Colin Clive (Sir Gerald), Mrs. Patrick Campbell (Lady Mont), Jane Wyatt (Dinny), Lionel Atwill (Brough), Alan Mowbray (Forsyte), Reginald Denny (Dornford), C. Aubrey Smith (General Charwell), Henry Stephenson (Sir Lawrence Mont), Gilbert Emery (Judge), E. E. Clive (Chayne).

by Chris Fujiwara

James Curtis, James Whale: A New World of Gods and Monsters. London: Faber and Faber, 1988.
Mark Gatiss, James Whale: A Biography, or the Would-Be Gentleman. New York: Cassell, 1995.

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