The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)

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    The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)
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    lot Synopsis from allmovie.com by Mark Deming
    Based on a successful stage drama, this historical romance stars Norma Shearer as Elizabeth Barrett, an invalid largely confined to her bed. Elizabeth has little company beyond her dog and her obsessively protective father, Edward Moulton Barrett (Charles Laughton). Her one great passion and means of emotional escape is writing poetry, to which she devotes a large part of her days. She makes the acquaintance of fellow poet Robert Browning (Fredric March), who pays her a visit. They respect each others' literary abilities and become romantically attracted to each other. Robert asks for Elizabeth's hand in marriage, but Edward refuses to allow it. Elizabeth must battle her father for the right to live her own life, but eventually she is able to wed Robert and bring herself back to health. Director Sidney A. Franklin also helmed a remake of The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1957); it was his last film.

    NY Times Review
    The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934)
    September 29, 1934
    By ANDRE SENNWALD.
    Published: September 29, 1934

    Having enjoyed a beginning of unusual promise, the young cinema season has now crowned itself royally with a distinguished film edition of "The Barretts of Wimpole Street," which was presented at the Capitol yesterday. Since comparisons are not only futile but often misleading, you will find no mention here of Rudolf Besier's stage play or of the Miss Cornell with whom it is so closely identified. Within the limited pictorial scope of Wimpole Street, the Barrett house and the park, Sidney Franklin has filmed a drama of beauty, dignity and nobility. There will be applause for Norma Shearer's Elizabeth, Fredric March's Robert Browning and Charles Laughton's Mr. Barrett. But, for the high-minded aspirations which went into its production, there can be nothing less than a shout of benediction. Hollywood could make no more fitting answer to her critics than this.

    The success of the photoplay is the more remarkable since the play on which it is based happens to be less than perfect screen material. This is the romance of two celebrated poets and the heart-warming struggle of the young Browning to free the invalid Miss Barrett from the cruel domination of her father. Being a vibrant drama of the spirit, it works out its solution in the darkness of Elizabeth's sick mind and the tortured impulses of her neurotic father. The eloquence of the story resides in the conversations between Mr. Barrett and his daughter in her sick room and in the young Browning's impassioned words to Elizabeth as he tries to set her free from her own inhibitions. Obviously its limitations in pictorial variety and scope are great, and the film's reliance on dialogue is at times almost painful.

    Yet the play has been filmed so shrewdly and acted with such courage and conviction that the spectator is rarely conscious of these ordinarily severe handicaps to the film's fluidity of motion. The composition and settings of the work are consummately lovely and the intelligence and impeccable good taste which Mr. Franklin brings to it are genuinely striking.

    Perhaps Mr. Barrett's tyrannical rule over his eleven children is only the mistaken care of a God-fearing man who is anxious to protect his brood from the perils of the flesh. Since he loves Elizabeth best, he exerts his influence on her the more vigorously. His repressive tactics keep Elizabeth a helpless invalid in the foreboding house on Wimpole Street. When an extended literary correspondence with Mr. Browning finally brings the young poet to the house to meet her, his ebullience and good health are like a life-giving potion to the fragile and fettered girl. The bitter father and the brave young man fight a desperate battle for her soul and, when she finally discovers the strength to oppose her father's will, it is evident that the poet has won. The drama ends with the elopement, after scenes of such warmth and depth of feeling that you feel tears in your eyes.

    Miss Shearer's Elizabeth is a brave and touching piece of acting, and she is successful in creating the illusion of a highly sensitive and delicate woman who beats her luminous wings in vain against the chains which bind her. Charles Laughton is, of course, superb as the stubborn, selfish and pious father. Fredric March makes a healthy and virile Browning, although his performance will impress the critical as a highly competent job by a versatile actor rather than an inspired portrayal of the great poet. The other players are admirable and Una O'Connor, in particular, as the faithful servant of the Barretts, manages an element of humor which is refreshing. A report on the acting would be woefully inadequate without a tribute to Flush, the cocker spaniel of Elizabeth. His almost human and occasionally superhuman powers of expression are so remarkable as to cause some alarm for the superiority of the human race.

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