Home > Reviews > ANTHONY ADVERSE – Erich Wolfgang Korngold

ANTHONY ADVERSE – Erich Wolfgang Korngold


Original Review by Craig Lysy

Warner Brothers Studio was in the market for a period piece romance and found its inspiration in Harvey Allen’s massive 1200 page novel “Anthony Adverse” (1933), paying an amazing $40,000 for the screen rights. Veteran director Mervyn LeRoy was hired to manage the project with Sheridan Gibney and Milton Krims tasked with adapting the mammoth novel for the big screen. The stellar cast included Frederic March as Anthony Adverse, Olivia de Havilland as Angela Giuseppe, Donald Woods as Vincent Nolte, Anita Louise as Maria Bonnyfeather, Edmund Gwenn as John Bonnyfeather and Claude Rains as Marquis Don Luis. Set in late 18th century Italy, the story offers a classic morality tale abounding with treachery, betrayal and misfortune. Maria is in an arranged marriage to the rich and cruel Marquis Don Luis, who is very much her senior. She however is in love with the man her dreams, a young and dashing French Calvary officer with who she becomes pregnant. When the Marquis discovers her dishonor, he kills her lover in a duel, and after she dies in childbirth, leaves her bastard son at a convent. When young Anthony reaches manhood he falls in love and marries his sweetheart Angela. By a twist of fate they become separated, tragically he is bereft at her disappearance while she feels he has abandoned her. As Anthony seeks his fortune overseas Angela rises to become an opera star. Years later when our lovers finally reunite, Anthony discovers that Angela has bore him a son, but she fails to disclose that she is now the famous opera star Mlle. Georges, mistress of Napoleon Bonaparte. When Anthony learns her secret, he is heart-broken and departs for America with his son in search of a better life. The film was a commercial and critical success, earning seven Academy Award nominations, winning four, including Best Original Score.

Composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold was fresh coming of his great success with Captain Blood 1935 and placed under contract by Warner Brothers. They assigned him the project as they felt his classic European romanticism was a perfect match for their period piece film. Korngold relates that his concept for the film was operatic, visualizing the film’s scenes as libretti. Classical leitmotifs would be employed to develop his thematic material. The score’s primary theme is Anthony’s Theme, which offers an impassioned string born identity supported by horns dramatico, and built upon repeating phrases. The theme speaks of his struggles and alludes to the adversity soon to unfold. The Marquis’s Theme supports our villain, and offers a dark and menacing identity carried by horns brutale, which perfectly speak to his cruelty. Maria’s Theme speaks to her gentle and tender nature. Supremely lyrical, its gentile strings with woodwind adornment provides a subtle, yet elegant expression. Maria’s and Denis’ tender, aching Love Theme, so full of yearning, offers us classic Golden Age romanticism at its finest. Both lush and elegant, this theme is one of the score’s finest. His second beautiful and lyrical Love Theme speaks to us of Anthony and Angela. It has a primary solo flute identity supported by kindred woodwinds, strings, and warm French horn, which although romantic, is more idyllic, than ardent. Brother Francois’s Theme is carried by strings and woodwinds solenne, and is adorned with religioso auras, which perfectly capture his essential goodness. Lolita’s Theme is that of the seductress, born on sensual strings, woodwinds and exotic accents, which speak to her allure. The Misery Theme is a grim descending seven-note phrase carried by dark strings with a five-note counter phrase. It speaks to Anthony’s moral descent and misery with his life. Lastly, Korngold interpolates the French anthem Le Marseille to support Napoleon and the French military.

As the Opening Credits display we begin dramatically with “Main Title”, a score highlight where Korngold introduces Anthony’s Theme. On screen the words “No father, no mother, no name”, are spoken by John Bonnyfeather. He starts the tale with reference to an abandoned child who would come to known as, Anthony Adverse, child of adversity. Korngold’s phrasing syncs with the words, thus empowering them. The theme’s minor modal colors are carried by dramatic horns and strings doloroso, which inform us of the struggles that await. We segue at 1:30 into “The Coach Ride”, where we see Don Luis taking his young bride Maria in his coach to a spa where he hopes to recover from his debilitating gout. As the carriage roars down the country roads, Korngold propels it forward with intense churning strings with percussive rhythms. At 2:11 we shift into the carriage’s interior. We see in Maria’s eyes that she is not happy in this marriage, as Don Luis for all his wealth is much older and insufferably arrogant. The music lightens, becomes more intimate and we hear Maria’s Theme and Anthony’s Theme joined in a gentile and romanticized fashion. Clearly Maria’s heart lies elsewhere. As we pan out again to the road we see the dashing officer Denis who pursues the carriage on horseback. Korngold introduces his theme, a militarized identity carried by trumpets, which now interplays with the propulsive travel motif. Upon arriving at the chateau, the Marquis Theme sounds darkly as he imperiously commands his servants to carry him. We conclude the cue with a reference to Denis’ Theme as he rides off.

At 4:24 we shift to “The Dinner” where Maria sits uncomfortably as Don Luis assures her that his virility will be soon restored. Unbeknownst to him, Maria dreads this prospect as she has secretly taken a lover her own age, Denis, a dashing young French officer. Although outwardly strings gentile and woodwinds paint a light and carefree elegance atop her theme, the music clearly alludes to her inner thoughts of Denis. At 5:44 we shift scenes to Maria’s bedroom in “Maria And The Madonna”, where she prays to the Madonna to help her forget Denis. Her theme supports the moment, as does Denis’ Theme as a brief shot of him looking out his window is seen. At 7:44 it is dawn and Maria’s servant wakes her up and presents a note from Denis to meet him at the mill bridge. Korngold provides light and carefree interplay of their themes, which flow like a danza felice to support the joyous moment. At 8:33 we segue into “Rendezvous In The Forest”, a wonderful score highlight, where Korngold introduces us to his tender, aching Love Theme, so full of yearning. Maria and Denis, who are desperately in love, enjoy a brief idyllic interlude together. They both realize they cannot live apart and so he decides to resign his military commission so they may depart France together and start a new life. The music for this scene is exquisite.

“The Recuperation” reveals that the Marquis has been cured of his gout. He dances playfully for Maria, and alludes to his romantic intentions. Maria recoils and retires to her bedchambers. Korngold renders the Marquis’ Theme as a playful dance to support his happiness, and intent to finally consummate their marriage. At 1:10 we segue into the splendid ternary cue “Dennis Visits Maria/Escape/Candles In The Window”. Maria is desperate and so packs and prepares to flee. She lights three candles to alert Denis to come for her rescue. Their Love Theme joins with Anthony’s Theme for some sparkling interplay. Denis’ Theme also joins when he sees the candles in her window and rides to her. The thematic interplay here is gorgeous. At 2:19 a gregarious rendering of the Marquis’ Theme sounds as he prepares to come to Maria and finally consummate his marriage. Yet his theme sours and hardens as he discovers her plan. A plaintive and impassioned rendering of the Love Theme joins but succumbs to the might of the Marquis’ Theme, as his outrage is boundless. He forces Denis’ name from her, and vilifies her for her dishonoring of his name. At 6:55 we segue into “The Death Of Dennis” where we see Denis arrive at the inn where the Marquis has taken Maria. The Marquis advises Maria that he is the finest swordsman in Europe, and of his intent to kill Denis. His theme sounds with growing menace as he descends the stairs to confront Denis. At 8:55 the duel commences and Korngold sows tension as the men duel. The younger Denis seems to have the upper hand but a call by Maria distracts him and he is slain. A darkly triumphant Marquis’ Theme sounds to mark his victory, as we see Maria overwrought.

In “The Trip Through The Snow” Don Luis secretly takes the pregnant Maria to a chalet high in the Alps. The Marquis’ Theme carries their journey with a fleeting reference of Maria’s Theme as she is carried from the carriage. His theme continues to growl as he becomes drunk waiting for the birth. At 2:17 we segue into “The Birth Of Anthony And The Death Of Maria” where we see Maria has delivered a son but died in childbirth. Plaintive echoes of Denis’ and Maria’s Themes join with Anthony’s Theme to mark the child’s sad entry into the world. The Marquis resolves to abandon the child, and so places the Madonna and child in a luggage, which he leaves it at the steps of a convent. His dark theme with fleeting references to Anthony’s Theme supports the journey and abandonment. At 5:26 we segue into “Leghorn And The House Of Bonnyfeather”, where we see Don Luis arriving to inform Maria’s father that she and ‘their’ son has died in childbirth. Refulgent fanfare and festive music supports the arrival and belies the terrible news. The scene of Don Luis relating the tragedy to Maria’s devastated father is unscored. The cue concludes with Anthony’s Theme on flute and a sterling solo violin against religioso tones in a scene shift to the convent, where the nuns convince Mother Superior to keep the child.

“The Convent” is a delightful cue, which highlights Anthony’s Theme in a number of different guises. We see Anthony as a ten-year-old boy who is lonely in his isolation at the convent. A gentile rendering of his theme supports his circumstance and discussions with Father Xavier. After Father leaves, he dons his hat, which was left on his bed, and scurries to climb a tree. His theme becomes animated and playful reflecting his happiness. When he takes a pigeon’s nest from the tree and presents it to a young girl as a gift, Korngold supports the moment with a tender and beautiful passage for strings and woodwinds. A scene shift at 2:10 to Mother Superior’s office reveals her demanding from Father Xavier that Anthony has to be placed in a home. A sublime solo flute set against religioso string harmonics supports the scene. Father Xavier and Anthony walk to John Bonnyfeather, who has agreed to adopt him. At 2:57 Anthony’s Theme flows in gentile fashion to support a very poignant scene when Bonnyfeather sees Anthony for the first time. We see that he is overcome, as he sees in the boy’s face, that of his daughter. He knows not that Anthony is in reality, his grandson. Korngold joins Anthony’s Theme with fragments of Maria’s Theme to support the powerful emotions at play here. At 4:06 we segue into “Young Angela” where Anthony meets Angela, the daughter of the cook. His theme is wonderfully expressed on warm strings to support the fateful first encounter. Later after viewing the Madonna, which John recognizes as Maria’s, he determines that Anthony is his grandson. He concludes that the Marquis lied to him, to preserve his honor, as Anthony was not of his blood, but instead a bastard. As such to protect this secret, he does not give Anthony his family’s name, but instead gives him the surname of Adverse, thus reflecting the travails of his life. At 6:10 we conclude with screen verse, which reveals Anthony has grown to manhood and become a fine man. A triumphant rendering of his theme is offered in grand fashion as we see him wake to greet a new day. Korngold achieved a superb synergy to the film’s narrative with his music!

“The Love Of Anthony And Angela” is a gorgeous score highlight! Anthony and Angela have fallen in love and Korngold introduces his second Love Theme for the couple as they take a ride in the countryside. At 3:17 we segue atop a wonderful marcia festivamente into “The Lottery And The March Through Leghorn”. Giuseppe has won the lottery and the town is celebrating. Anthony and Angela are heart broken when they learn that Giuseppe demands that she join her family for a new life in their ancestral town. As she leaves Anthony entreats her to stay, but to no avail. Years later Anthony discovers Angela singing at the opera, and they restart the affair and get married. Yet their life goes terribly wrong when her note explaining her departure to Venice goes astray, and Anthony believes she has abandoned her. At 4:57 we segue into “Havana”, as we see John task Anthony with collecting a massive debt owed him by the trader Gallegos. Horns dramatico, pulsing drums and tambourine herald Anthony’s arrival in Havana. At 6:07 we conclude with “Brother Francois” who agrees to accompany Anthony to Africa on his quest to reclaim assets of Gallegos. Korngold creates an exotic tableau of nativist drums and African rhythms to support the new setting. We close upon a plaintive Anthony’s Theme, which reflects his longing for Angela. Korngold perfectly captured the ethnic colors for these scenes.

The “Adventures In Africa” suite really offers writing of the highest order, testimony to Korngold’s genius. In “The Embittered Anthony” Anthony has toiled for three years in Africa as a slave trader in order to recover the fortune owed John, yet in so doing he has become sad, cynical and bitter. We open with Brother Francois’ Theme, which informs us of his moral decline. As Lolita enters his hut Korngold offers her alluring theme with sensual strings that are adorned with exotic accents, as she clearly seeks to entice him. We conclude atop the Misery Theme, which reflects his spirit. At 1:52 “The Misery Of The Slave Trade” Brother Francois intervenes to save an old slave. His tender theme contests with the Misery Theme, as he exhorts Anthony to give up the slave trade, to regain his honor, and return to Angela. Yet Anthony revels in his power and wealth, and declines as his theme joins in a dark communion with the Misery Theme. At 2:48 we segue into “The Torrential Rains”, a score highlight and truly remarkable cue! Lolita clearly wants Anthony, and her allure preys upon him, yet he resists and orders her from his sight. He is clearly tormented and becoming ill with fever. He begins a trek in the downpour to visit Brother Francois, whom he misses. Korngold supports with the Misery Theme, which he slowly transforms into a powerful and horrific marcia di tormento. There is interplay with Anthony’s Theme, yet the Misery Theme prevails. As he reaches Brother Francois’ compound, he kneels before a cross and prays. Brother Francois’ Theme sounds as he comes to rescue Anthony who is now delirious from fever. At 6:07 we flow into “Anthony’s Illness” where he lies bedridden. Lolita refuses Brother Francois access to Anthony and their two themes clash, with hers prevailing. We conclude with “The Death Of Brother Francois” is an outstanding cue and score highlight. We see Anthony realize that Lolita had denied Brother Francois access to him and conspired to kill him. He throws her to the ground and sets off to rescue him. Korngold propels his trek with a percussive rendering of Brother Francois’ Theme, which grows in urgency. When Anthony discovers him dying, the theme crescendos, resounding powerfully. One last reverential statement of the theme concludes the scene as Anthony promises him to leave Africa and return home.

In “The Snowy Alps” Anthony has returned to Leghorn to discover John has died. Unknown to him is that Faith and Don Luis have formed an unholy alliance, and conspire to cheat him out of his inheritance. As he journeys through the Alps to Paris to claim his inheritance they try to assassinate him, but fail. Korngold provides high tremolo strings and chirping woodwinds to usher in a tense passage that portends Don Luis’ dark purpose. His theme sounds with menace as the plot fails. At 2:00 we segue into “Crossing The Border Into Napoleon’s France” where we see Anthony arriving in Nogent L’Artaud outside of Paris. Korngold provides a dance like ambiance with interplay from Le Marseille, to establish the new setting. At 3:10 Anthony arrives in “Paris” where we see Napoleon overseeing his officer corps dining. Korngold supports the scene with a dramatic statement of Le Marseille. At 3:59 we segue into “Angela Spots Anthony” where Anthony and Angela are attending a ball for Napoleon. Angela has become Napoleon’s mistress and when she notices Anthony, his theme sounds with alarm. Korngold informs us of Angela’s conflict through interplay of their Love Theme and Le Marseille, as she panics and flees the ball. We segue into “At The Cottage” at 3:59 atop spirited travel music and Le Marseille, as an officer spies in the distance. As they greet and embrace Korngold offers an extended and heart-warming reprise of their Love Theme to celebrate the moment.

At 6:07 we segue into “Anthony Meets His Son”, which offers a most beautiful cue and score highlight. Korngold supports the emotional scene with further articulation of the Love Theme, and Le Marseille – an allusion to Angela’s predicament. We segue into “The Madonna” at 8:45 where Anthony gives his son the Madonna and asks him to keep it always. Korngold reprises Maria’s Theme, alluding to its origins to tenderly support the moment. We continue with Anthony’s Love Theme as Angela declines Anthony’s entreaty to join him in America. When she lets slip that she will be singing tomorrow night, Anthony is overjoyed and we close with his theme as they passionately embrace. What an exceptional cue! We conclude with great pathos at 12:34 with “Anthony And His Son Leave For America”. Anthony attends the opera and discovers why Angela has been resistant to join him in America – she is Mlle. Georges, mistress of Napoleon. He is heart-broken and leaves the opera house as the Love Theme crescendos to mark his pain. His theme carries him as he reads Angela’s farewell letter and advises his son that it is his mother’s and his wish that he join him in America. As they stand on the ship’s deck and prepare for a new life together, we conclude with a grand final statement of Anthony’s Theme. At 15:19 we flow into the “End Title And End Credits”. Korngold supports this with a heartfelt performance of Anthony’s and Angela’s Love Theme, which concludes with a flourish. Magnificent!

Please allow me to thank Robert Townson and Varese Sarabande for this marvelous re-recording of an early Korngold classic. The sound quality is excellent and John Scott expertly captured the beauty of Korngold’s handiwork. This is a classic period piece film, which offered a perfect fit to Korngold’s strengths as a composer. He provided a leitmotif rich score where he managed to capture the essence of each actor, and the film’s diverse settings. His music emotes with an operatic power, which showcases his talent for sterling thematic interplay. Scene after scene the pathos, tragedy, romance and heroism born by the film’s narrative were enhanced by the beauty and emotive power of Korngold’s music. This score stands proudly as a Korngold classic and one of the finest of the early Golden Age. I highly recommend that you add this timeless score to your collection.

Buy the Anthony Adverse soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Part One – The Lovers [Main Title/The Coach Ride/The Dinner/Maria and the Madonna/Rendezvous in the Forest] (11:01)
  • Part Two – Anthony Is Born [The Recuperation/Dennis Visits Maria/Escape/Candles in the Window/The Death of Dennis] (10:30)
  • Part Three – Casa da Bonnyfeather [The Trip Through the Snow/The Birth of Anthony and the Death of Maria/Leghorn and the House of Bonnyfeather] (8:38)
  • Part Four – Young Angela [The Convent/Young Angela] (7:47)
  • Part Five – From Leghorn to Cuba [The Love of Anthony and Angela/The Lottery and the March Through Leghorn/Havana/Brother Francois] (7:09)
  • Part Six – Adventures in Africa [The Embittered Anthony/The Misery of the Slave Trade/The Torrential Rains/Anthony’s Illness/The Death of Brother Francois] (11:18)
  • Part Seven – Anthony Returns to Europe [The Snowy Alps/Crossing the Border Into Napoleon’s France/Paris/Angela Spots Anthony/At the Cottage/Anthony Meets His Son/The Madonna/Anthony And His Son Leave For America/End Title and End Credits] (16:44)

Running Time: 73 minutes 07 seconds

Varese Sarabande VSD-5285 (1936/1991)

Music composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Conducted by John Scott. Performed by The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. Orchestrations by Hugo Friedhofer and Milan Roder. Recorded and mixed by Hans Jörg Saladin. Score produced by Leo F. Forbstein. Album produced by Robert Townson.

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