Cast & Crew
After young composer Lewis Dodd's latest symphony is badly received in London, he seeks solace at the Swiss home of his old friend and fellow musician, Albert Sanger. Lewis' arrival causes great excitement among Sanger's four daughters: Kate, Toni, Tessa and Paula. Despite the fact that she is only a teenager, Tessa is in love with Lewis and dreams of helping him to reach his full promise as a composer. The ailing Sanger has reared his daughters away from the conventions of society and now worries about their future. He asks Lewis to contact Charles Creighton, Tessa and Paula's wealthy uncle, if he dies. Finished with family business, Sanger then chastises Lewis for the lack of feeling in his music. When the girls play a little song that Lewis wrote for them, Sanger tells Lewis that, far from being a trifle, the beautiful melody is better than his more intellectual work. Some time later, Sanger dies. Kate travels to Milan to study music, and Toni marries wealthy Fritz Bercovy. Complying with Sanger's wishes, Lewis sends for Creighton, who arrives with his beautiful daughter Florence. Lewis and Florence fall immediately in love, and when they announce their engagement, Tessa, who has a bad heart, faints. Creighton arranges for Tessa and Paula to attend school in England, and Lewis and Florence marry. Six months later, Lewis is frustrated by Florence's efforts to manage his career and the couple quarrel frequently and publicly. When Tessa and Paula run away from their school, Lewis immediately leaves to look for them, ignoring the party that Florence has planned to introduce him to her friends. Lewis fails to find the sisters, but when he returns home, they are waiting. Paula leaves to join Fritz and Toni, who is pregnant, and Tessa stays with Florence and Lewis. When Tessa hears Lewis' latest composition, based on the song that he wrote for her and her sisters, she is disappointed. The next day, Tessa encourages Lewis to put sentiment back into his music. Enthusiastic for the first time since his marriage, Lewis changes his composition with Tessa's help. Florence realizes that Tessa is her rival, despite her youth, and jealously tries to get rid of her, but Lewis comes to her defense. The night of the first performance of Lewis' new work, Lewis finally realizes that he returns Tessa's love and asks her to go away with him, but Tessa refuses because he is married to her cousin. The excitement of Lewis' proposal and the premiere of his composition causes Tessa to have another fainting spell, and Florence insists that Tessa stay home, rather than attend the concert. Lewis' new work is favorably received, but Lewis returns to Tessa before the end of the concert. Florence follows him to tell him that the music has made her understand how much he loves Tessa and so she will not stand in his way if he wants to leave her. Her release is too late, however, as all the conflict has been too much for Tessa's frail heart and she has died.
Dame May Whitty
Leo F. Forbstein
Oliver S. Garretson
Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Jack L. Warner
Carl Jules Weyl
The Constant Nymph
"How about me?" asked Fontaine.
"Who are you?" asked Goulding, staring at the freckled, non-made-up face framed by pigtails.
Suddenly Goulding beamed with recognition and said, "You're perfect!" The next day, Fontaine officially had the role.
Despite the fact that Goulding hadn't immediately recognized the star of Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941), Fontaine came to adore the man, later writing that "playing the part of Tessa in The Constant Nymph was the happiest motion-picture assignment of my career." Goulding's experience as a stage director made him very attentive to his actors. She recalled how the set was a model of efficiency and productivity, with mornings -- starting at the luxuriously late hour of 8 am -- devoted to discussion and rehearsals of the day's scenes. Goulding, with his writer, would adjust dialogue and characterization with all the actors, work out the blocking, and then after lunch, filming would be quick and easy. "Home by 4:30 or 5!" Fontaine remembered.
In the film, Charles Boyer plays a composer who marries a socialite (Alexis Smith), though he really loves (but doesn't yet realize it) the very young Swiss-farm-dwelling Tessa (Fontaine), who inspires him. Tessa is an adolescent, a child-woman who basically transforms into a woman during the story. To make a 25-year-old successfully come across as an adolescent is a testament to the skill of both performer and director, and Fontaine pulls it off by her sheer energy. Pleasant logistical schedule aside, one can easily imagine Fontaine having the time of her life playing Tessa, being able to perform with a delightful and wild physicality one rarely associates with the actress.
Not everyone on set adored Goulding and his methods, however. Goulding liked to play out an actor's scene himself to show what he wanted, and Charles Boyer, for one, did not like that. But Fontaine didn't mind Goulding's acting-out, later saying, "You can get more from watching Eddie play a scene than you can from an hour discussing it." She also said: "Eddie knew the problems of actors and he solved them -- the need for reassurance, to feel a part of the whole. To be cosseted, to be aware of the subtleties of the role, to be gently, kindly guided. He did this for me in The Constant Nymph."
Boyer also wasn't fond of the film overall, only accepting the part (originally meant for Errol Flynn) on the provision that he get top billing and $150,000. "What he did not like," wrote his biographer Larry Swindell, "was his role as Lewis, who was credited in others' dialogue with qualities of depth and sensitivity that were not facets of the role as written, and were difficult for him to express." Boyer thought his composer character was too thinly drawn and was manipulated by the women characters much more than having a life of his own. He also felt that Alexis Smith's character was so humorless and unlikable that his character's love for her was unbelievable, consequently making Tessa's love for him also dubious.
The Constant Nymph already had a long and celebrated history as a property. It began life as a 1924 novel written by Margaret Kennedy that was immediately adapted for the stage by Kennedy and Basil Dean. On London's West End it starred Edna Best, Noel Coward and later John Gielgud; a Broadway production followed. Two film versions were produced in England: a 1928 silent, and a 1934 talkie starring Brian Aherne (Fontaine's future husband). Both were directed by Basil Dean.
Script development for this new 1943 version took some time because Goulding couldn't stop revising the script, leading to some friction with Warner Brothers production chief Hal Wallis. Jack Warner had Errol Flynn and Joan Leslie in mind for the leads, but Goulding preferred an English actor for the male role, specifically Robert Donat or Leslie Howard. Both were unavailable. Eventually the role was rewritten so that the character's nationality didn't matter, and Charles Boyer was cast.
The release of The Constant Nymph was delayed for a year partly because it made no reference to WWII -- and the films that did were more important to release as soon as possible. When it finally did come out, it did not do well at the box office. But critics praised it, with The New York Times calling Fontaine's performance "a superb achievement... Goulding deserves mention for telling a long story (almost two hours) with a pace that rarely wearies... Conceived with a deep sympathy and understanding, the Hollywood effort is a fine tribute to the virtues that have made the book endure."
Fontaine had learned of her Oscar® nomination for Suspicion during the making of The Constant Nymph. She won and a year later, she'd be nominated for The Constant Nymph itself, her third nomination in four years. But she lost that time around to Jennifer Jones, for The Song of Bernadette (1943).
The Constant Nymph disappeared from public view for many years due to rights issues, but a beautiful new print debuted at the second annual TCM Classic Film Festival in 2011.
Producer: Henry Blanke
Director: Edmund Goulding
Screenplay: Kathryn Scola (writer); Margaret Kennedy (play and novel); Basil Dean (play)
Cinematography: Tony Gaudio
Art Direction: Carl Jules Weyl
Music: Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Film Editing: David Weisbart
Cast: Charles Boyer (Lewis Dodd), Joan Fontaine (Tessa Sanger), Alexis Smith (Florence Creighton), Brenda Marshall (Toni Sanger), Charles Coburn (Charles Creighton), Dame May Whitty (Lady Longborough), Peter Lorre (Fritz Bercovy), Joyce Reynolds (Paula Sanger), Jean Muir (Kate Sanger), Montagu Love (Albert Sanger).
by Jeremy Arnold
Joan Fontaine, No Bed of Roses
Matthew Kennedy, Edmund Goulding's Dark Victory
William R. Meyer, Warner Brothers Directors
Larry Swindell, Charles Boyer
The Constant Nymph
When the rights to "The Constant Nymph" reverted back to the author Margaret Kennedy (or her estate), the film was withdrawn from circulation, and currently remains unavailable for general viewing (with the exception of an occasional showing at a museum).
Hollywood Reporter news items add the following information about this production: Margaret Sullavan, Merle Oberon, Bette Davis and Olivia De Havilland were considered for roles in the film. Wendy Barrie and Eve March tested for the role of "Tessa" and Joan Leslie was announced for the part. According to a press release, Errol Flynn had been considered as Leslie's co-star. Another press release notes that Kay Van Riper was assigned to write the screenplay. Cinematographer Tony Gaudio replaced Ernest Haller. Joan Fontaine received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance as "Tessa." The Margaret Kennedy and Basil Dean play was earlier the basis for two British films, both entitled The Constant Nymph: the 1928 silent film starring Ivor Novello and Mabel Poulton and directed by Adrian Bunel, and the 1934 film starring Brian Aherne and Victoria Hopper and directed by Basil Dean. Charles Boyer starred with Maureen O'Sullivan in a January 10, 1944 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of the story.