The Constant Nymph has the reputation for having been unseen for many years because of copyright issues. It was one of those classic films that eluded fans for such a long time it most likely became a myth. Now fortunately the rights for the film have been cleared allowing TCM to air the film and Warner Bros. Archive has been able to release it on DVD. So many classic films that are hard to find are usually so hyped up leaving so many fans dying to see it and most of the time the excitement and expectations for it are just left on the floor due to utter disappointment because the film is no good (example for many has been Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino’s once lost film Beyond the Rocks). This disappointment is not so for Joan Fontaine and Charles Boyer’s once locked up film The Constant Nymph.
Lewis Dodd (Boyer) is an unsuccessful composer. His latest work did not fare well under the critics. To get away from it all he goes to the home of an old composer friend of his named Albert Sanger (Montagu Love) in the Alps. The family is very happy Lewis will be come but none more so than one of Sanger’s teenage daughters named Tessa (Fontaine). She runs all over the house in wild excitement waiting for Lewis to arrive.
Sanger tells Tessa that Lewis is a good composer but he would do so much better because his heart is not in his music he needs to love and to suffer in order to put heart into his works. Tessa confesses in so many ways to her sister Paula that she is in love with Lewis and would do anything for him. Of course Lewis never notices that Tessa is madly in love with him.
Sanger tells Lewis that is afraid of what will happen to the girls if he were to die. He has four daughters but not with the same woman. His older daughters can manage on their own with finding someone to marry but his two youngest daughters who have the same mother will be left with nothing. He says that their mother’s family disowned her after she ran away with him and he is not sure her family would want Tessa and Paula around. Sanger unfortunately dies while Lewis is there. Tessa and Paula’s relatives an uncle named Charles (Charles Coburn) and his daughter Florence (Alexis Smith) come to the home. Not very long later Lewis and Florence have fallen in love and are to marry. When Tessa hears the news she collapses.
A year and a half later Tessa and Paula are at a boarding school in London. They hate it and run away. Lewis is upset and does whatever he can to have them found. Florence does not care one bit for the girls she finds them annoying since they get all of Lewis’s attention. Florence has thrown a party on the night the girls came to the house. Tessa and Paula listen to Lewis play a piece from his new composition. The next day Tessa tells him that he has butchered the song it just sounds like a mess there is no warmth in his music. She helps Lewis remember what he had originally set out to create. Florence becomes extremely jealous that Lewis listen to whatever Tessa has to say but he will not listen to her his own wife.
One night Florence just loses it. She tells her father she thinks the girls are like a drug to Lewis when they are around. Florence does not hide the fact that she is jealous of Tessa snapping at the girl whenever she wants to do something for Lewis.
On the night of the concert Lewis realizes he loves Tessa and always had. He also sees that Tessa has always loved him as well. Lewis tells this to Florence and she freaks out. Florence goes to Tessa to confront her. Tessa tells her cousin that she does love Lewis but not in a way she thinks. Tessa does not want to be with Lewis. She says she will go live with her older sister and her husband in Paris as soon as the performance is over. Tessa decides not to go to the concert for Florence’s sake. She knows she must leave the house and go to Paris.
After everyone has left she tries to leave but she hears Lewis’s piece being performed over the radio. When Tessa hears the lyrics of the song they are painful to hear. In her mind she is back in her little bohemian home in Alps and Lewis has come to her. They confess their love but it is obvious it is nothing but a school girl crush for Tessa. Pulled out of her dream Tessa tries to leave but she falls over her suitcase and to the floor.
When Lewis comes home all he cares about is finding Tessa. The butler tells Lewis that she is sleeping but when Lewis gets to Tessa he can see she is no longer living. He has now known love and heartbreak.
Melodrama in every sense of the word. The only scenes that were bearable were the ones Joan Fontaine was in and to be honest they were not much (well to me anyway). Fontaine was fantastic. She wrote in her autobiography that it was “the happiest motion-picture assignment of my career” and considers this to be one of her favorite film she made. You can clearly see Fontaine enjoyed making this film. Her acting is perfect you really do believe she is a young teenage girl (she was twenty-six at the time) in love with a man for the way he makes her feel so happy. According to IMDB Fontaine got the part when director Edmund Goulding was having trouble casting the film. Warner Bros. want a star in the part but no one fit. He ran into Fontaine and then husband Brian Aherne at a restaurant when they had just gotten off their private plane. Fontaine was dressed in a leather flight jacket and pigtails. Goulding said "Jack Warner wants a star in the lead, but she has to be consumptive, flat-chested, anemic, and fourteen!" Fontaine said how about herself for the part but Goulding did not recognize her with her hair in pigtails. As soon as he found out who she was he said she was perfect for the part and signed the contract to star in the film the next day. Fontaine had the energy and the look to play the part. Of the films I have seen her in this is one of my favorites (probably my favorite after Rebecca). I have to say I cracked up with Alexis Smith playing the older cousin to Joan Fontaine because Fontaine was quite a few years older than Smith.
Charles Boyer never does anything for me. I was just amused that he starred with Joan Fontaine and then three years later made the film Hold Back the Dawn with her sister Olivia de Havilland (I am seriously considering making a list of all the same people the sisters worked with or how their films are connected in certain ways). I do not believe I have ever seen Alexis Smith in a film before but she was excellent. She did a great job playing the jealous wife. Smith was also ridiculously pretty. Peter Lorre was a minor character who really should not have been in the film he just took up film.
The Constant Nymph was very good. There is absolutely no disappointment due to let down expectations. The story has been done to death but the acting is great from all the actors. If TCM ever runs The Constant Nymph again definitely sit down and watch it. If you are a fan of Joan Fontaine just buy the film on DVD she was that good.