Man, old Hollywood was so damn proud of their literary adaptations, weren’t they? Anthony Adverse is yet another film so taken with its source material that the title of the film appears on the poster on the cover of a large book; fitting, since the original novel was apparently over 1,200 pages long. It is also a film (and a novel) named simply for the main character, a young lad (and later adult) given the surname Adverse due to all the turmoil he’s had to endure in his life. Yep, it’s gonna be one of those types of films; a fictional-character biopic where the main character undergoes adversities one after another, filled with melodrama and strife and conflict, and boasting a larger-than-average running time. It just so happens that this also takes place in late 18th century England, to add to the pile; because of course why shouldn’t it.
Anthony is a young boy, born to Maria Bonnyfeather and her true love Denis, despite her marriage to a Spanish marquis, who kills Denis in a swordfight when he learns of the affair. Maria dies in childbirth, and the marquis leaves the infant at a convent, despite the qualms of the sisters, as the convent is supposed to be for girls only. He comes of age, and is thus presented to a benefactor, who happens to be his grandfather; all of this being fully presented to us instead of remaining backstory, and thus taking up the first 45 minutes or so, until we finally meet Anthony as an adult, where he’s played by Fredric March. Needless to say, things happen, the years pass, and through a distractingly large amount of exposition through title cards, we follow Anthony as he tries to keep his longtime love, helps his benefactor with his work and his inheritance, and tries to find his way in the world. If I sound at all disinterested in explaining the minutiae of the plot, it’s because I am so disinterested. I started the film, and fairly quickly picked up on the overblown musical score and acting by those involved. Needless to say, it was about 15 minutes into the film, after all the melodrama that had already happened, that I finally came to realize that I ultimately wasn’t going to like Anthony Adverse very much. The acting by everyone was so over the top that it became almost too much to bear after enough time had passed (though Fredric March does at least try to be a little more than a caricature). The overabundance of title cards to explain each shift forward in time and cover all the holes grew to be quite an annoyance as well; really, everything about this one was just annoying to an absurd degree. Even with the over-two-hour running time, I had completely checked out of the film with well over half the film left to go, and the rest became a mere endurance test, me counting the minutes until the end credits finally rolled.
God, was this a laborious watch. I’d intended to have it done and the review up around the middle of the week, and it’s finally going up today; it took me several days to watch this, in several installments, just to get through the whole thing. The most frustrating thing was yet another recurrence of a problem I’ve been encountering with these lesser nominees for the big Oscar; what was really the point of making this film? If it was actually a passion for the source material and a drive to see it presented to a new, wider audience, then perhaps the source material should’ve been more worth the passion and presentation; this just felt like a poorly-focused vanity project, and I’m actually a little angry it ended up with the nominations it did, including Best Picture. Normally, this is where I’d lay out reasons to potentially sit through this one, contrasted with reasons it’s not worth a look, but I really couldn’t care less about this film if I wanted to to lay it all out for you, and that I think says more than anything else about where I stood with this picture.
Arbitrary Rating: 5/10