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Vanessa: Her Love Story

Vanessa: Her Love Story(1935)

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teaser Vanessa: Her Love Story (1935)

Producer David O. Selznick favored films with 'class' elements: costume epics by published authors with scores of characters. Vanessa: Her Love Story (1935) visualized the last of four "Herries clan" novels by Hugh Walpole, who had just adapted Selznick's film of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield. Originally conceived as a vehicle for Gloria Swanson, the tale of thwarted love among the rich paired the stage star Helen Hayes with MGM's young leading man Robert Montgomery. The sprawling story offers an odd timeline of events. As the curtain rises in 1880 the grand dame Judith Paris (May Robson) is a full 100 years of age, yet ten years later she's still alive and advising her granddaughter Vanessa (Hayes) to avoid a 'dull' life. Vanessa loves her distant relative Benjie (Montgomery), but as he's the family's Black Sheep, they put off marriage while he goes off to shake the wildness out of his system. When he returns to formally propose, a tragic house fire causes the death of Vanessa's beloved father (Lewis Stone). Benjie is wrongly blamed. Vanessa banishes him from her sight, but a year or so later goes looking for him. Alas, Benjie has married a barmaid and has a child on the way. Vanessa then weds suitor Ellis Herries (Otto Kruger), only to discover that he's mentally ill and prone to fits of paranoia. A foreign war, the loss of an arm and more death and destruction follow. Will Vanessa and Benjie ever get together? Critics liked Otto Kruger's turn as the demented husband, but decided that the pleasant Montgomery was miscast as a swaggering rogue and that the tiny Helen Hayes seemed lost in the enormous dresses designed for the film. The respected Miss Hayes retreated back to Broadway, not appearing in another film for eight years.

By Glenn Erickson

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