Cast & Crew
In 1813, during the Napoleonic Wars, a small party of French soldiers is captured by the English and taken to a fortress in Edinburgh, Scotland. Among the group of ordinary soldiers is Anatole de Keroual, formerly the Viscount of St. Ives, who was demoted from his officer status when a prisoner in his charge, a fellow aristocrat, escaped. Determined to escape from their captors, the men dig a tunnel during the night. In the meantime, Anatole contacts his elderly uncle, the Count St. Ives, who has settled in England, asking him to visit the prison. Anatole has one visitor, Flora Gilchrist, a young woman whom he met earlier in Switzerland. In an attempt to aid Anatole, with whom she is in love, Flora asks Major Edward Chevenish to parole him. Chevenish responds that only officers can be paroled and then proposes marriage to Flora, who rejects him. One night, Anatole and another soldier quarrel. Anatole wins the subsequent duel and spares the soldier's life, but when the other man tries to stab him in the back, Anatole is forced to kill him. The next visiting day, Daniel Romaine, an emissary from Anatole's uncle, delivers a large sum of money to Anatole, who admits that he will use it to facilitate his escape. Unknown to Anatole, however, Romaine is in league with Allan St. Ives, Anatole's cousin, who wishes to eliminate his rival for his uncle's fortune. Before he leaves the prison, Romaine tells Chevenish of Anatole's escape plans. While Chevenish questions Clausel, one of the soldiers, who eventually accuses Anatole of murdering the other soldier in cold blood, the others take advantage of a storm to set an explosion and escape. After arranging a rendezvous in London, Anatole hurries to Flora's home to say goodbye. Knowing of Anatole's relationship with Flora, Chevenish suspects that he will find him there and tries to search the house, but her aunt, Annie Gilchrist, prevents him and then arranges for Flora and Anatole to travel disguised as shepherds. Meanwhile, Allan and Romaine hear that an escaping prisoner was killed and tell the count that it was Anatole. The count makes a new will, naming Allan as his heir. After several close calls, Anatole and Flora arrive at the rendezvous point in London. Unaware that he has been betrayed by Romaine, Anatole visits his office and overhears Allan and Romaine plot to poison the count. Anatole hurries to the count's home and prevents the murder, but Allan summons Chevenish, who arrests Anatole for the murder of the other soldier. When Flora learns what has happened, she wants to rush to his aid, but is unable to do so because her money has been stolen. She then contacts the count and, along with him and Sergeant Carnac, who vows to testify that Anatole acted in self-defense, arrives just in time to save Anatole's life.
Luis Van Rooten
Jean Del Val
Guy De Vestel
The Secret of St. Ives
When Stevenson died in 1894 he left behind two unfinished novels and various stories. Although letters suggest he was bored with St. Ives: The Adventures of a French Prisoner in England and felt he had mired it in too many improbabilities, his widow, Fanny, asked critic and writer Arthur Quiller-Coach to complete the manuscript. The results, published in 1896, do not stand up to his mature works (in contrast to his other unfinished novel, Weir of Hermiston, which now stands among his best stories). It offers an exciting tale, nonetheless, about a French military man captured by the English and held in a Scottish prison, where he falls in love with a beautiful young woman. When he escapes in hopes of seeking help from his father, who thinks he is dead, a corrupt relation out to secure the family inheritance frames him for murder.
With the success of Stevenson adaptations in Hollywood, including two versions of Kidnapped (1938 and 1948) and the moody, low budget The Body Snatcher (1945), it was only natural that the studios would return to his work, particularly since it was all in the public domain. Columbia handed his unfinished novel to producer Rudolph C. Flothow, who had been a studio stalwart for over a decade, churning out low budget entries for their Crime Doctor, The Whistler and Boston Blackie series. For director, he turned to Philip Rosen, a Hollywood veteran who had started his career as a cameraman in the days of silent films. Rosen had quickly risen to become one of the most respected directors in town, even helping MGM salvage Exquisite Sinner (1926) when studio head Louis B. Mayer had fired Josef von Sternberg for working too slowly. Rosen had had trouble adjusting to the coming of sound, however. Like many silent greats from film's early years, he sunk rapidly to poverty row productions, contributing regularly to Monogram programmers like Bela Lugosi horror films, Charlie Chan mysteries and Bowery Boys comedies. He even directed Spooks Run Wild (1941), the first film to team Lugosi with the Bowery Boys. Rosen worked quickly and economically, perfect qualifications for Columbia's B unit. The Secret of St. Ives would be the last of his 142 directing credits.
Columbia's B pictures were a haven for actors on the way up, those who had seen better days and those who would rarely make it out of low-budget production. Ney fell between the first two categories. He had debuted impressively in 1942, playing Garson and Walter Pidgeon's son in the Oscar®-winning Mrs. Miniver. The momentum that hit created was halted by his absence from the screen to serve in World War II and the scandal surrounding his marriage to Garson. Although younger than her character in Mrs. Miniver, Garson was still 12 years older than Ney. Studio head Mayer was so concerned about the age difference he asked them to keep their marriage secret until after the film became a hit. When Ney returned from the war, however, he and Garson had a hard time starting over. Their 1947 divorce, which brought out revelations of his goading his wife over their age difference, sank what little was left of his career. Filmgoers refused to forgive him for mistreating the popular star, and he moved into supporting roles in less-prestigious films such as The Secret of St. Ives. Eventually he had to leave acting, building a more successful career as a financier.
Ney's co-stars had much more propitious futures. Leading lady Vanessa Brown, though consigned for most of her film career to B pictures, would eventually leave Hollywood for New York, where she starred in the new television medium and scored a Broadway triumph as the seductive upstairs neighbor in The Seven Year Itch (Marilyn Monroe would star in the film version). Villain Henry Daniell had been a character actor since his film debut in 1929, most notably as Greta Garbo's sadistic mentor in Camille (1936). He even had a background with Stevenson film adaptations, having starred effectively in a rare sympathetic role as the tortured doctor in The Body Snatcher (1945). Typecasting as a character actor would keep him working until his death while filming My Fair Lady (1964).
The Secret of St. Ives quickly faded from the screen, though the story would return in 1998 in another fanciful adaptation simply titled St. Ives. This British version would star French actor Jean-Marc Barr as the nobleman, Richard E. Grant as a more sympathetic prison warden than Daniell and Anna Friel, most recently the co-star of Pushing Daisies, as his lady love.
Director: Philip Rosen
Producer: Rudolph C. Flothow
Screenplay: Eric Taylor
Based on the unfinished novel St. Ives: Being the Adventures of a French Prisoner in England by Robert Louis Stevenson
Cinematography: Henry Freulich
Art Direction: Cary Odell
Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Principal Cast: Richard Ney (Anatole de Keroual), Vanessa Brown (Flora Gilchrist), Henry Daniell (Maj. Edward Chevenish), Edgar Barrier (Sgt. Carnac), Aubrey Mather (Daniel Romaine), John Dehner (Couguelat), Jean Del Val (Comte St. Ives), Phyllis Morris (Annie Gilchrist).
by Frank Miller