Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Gene Tierney unravels the mystery surrounding “Dragonwyck”

Dragonwyck (1946) is an American historical drama directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Vincent Price, and Glenn Langan. The film is based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Anya Seton. The film score was by Alfred Newman and the cinematography was by Arthur C.  Miller (How Green Was My Valley).

Miranda Wells (Tierney) is a Connecticut farm girl who lives with her parents, Ephraim (Huston), Abigail (Anne Revere), and her brothers and sister. Miranda dreams of a more romantic life away from the farm and is delighted when she is given the opportunity to be a companion for her distant cousin Nicholas Van Ryn’s (Price) eight-year-old daughter Katrine (Connie Marshall). 

Van Ryn is the master of Dragonwyck Manor, a huge mansion sitting along the Hudson River in New York. Miranda is overwhelmed by the enormity of Dragonwyck and the new luxuries she now enjoys. At first, Miranda is charmed by her cousin and young charge, but slowly, things begin to change.

She discovers that Katrine is alienated from both of her parents and doesn’t believe that they love her. Miranda also realizes that the marriage between Nicholas and his wife Johanna (Vivienne Osborne) is far from perfect.

When Nicholas’s affections turn from Johanna to Miranda, life becomes a complicated nightmare for the young farm girl from Connecticut.

Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, and Anne Revere

Gene Tierney (1920 – 1991) was an American actress. Tierney got her start on the stage where she played the ingenue lead in The Male Animal. She was spotted by 20th Century-Fox Studio head Darryl F. Zanuck and he offered her a movie contract. Zanuck said that Tierney was the most beautiful woman in the movies. Tierney proved that she could carry a film not completely based on her beauty in films like Laura (1944) and Leave Her To Heaven (1945) for which she was nominated for her first and only Best Actress Academy Award. Other important films include The Razor’s Edge (1946), Dragonwyck (1946), The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), The Iron Curtain (1948), Whirlpool (1949), and The Mating Season (1951). In the late 1940s, she struggled with mental illness which negatively affected her career. After 1955’s The Left Hand of God, Tierney was off the screen until Advice & Consent (1962). She appeared in two films after that, but her career in film effectively ended in 1964 after a guest appearance in The Pleasure Seekers.

Walter Huston (1883 - 1950) was a Canadian singer, stage, and film actor. He is also the patriarch of the Huston clan that includes his writer-director son John, and his granddaughter, actress Anjelica. Huston worked in the theater, with roles on Broadway where he made his debut in 1924. Once talking pictures began in Hollywood, Huston worked as both a leading man and also a character actor. Some of Huston’s films include The Virginian (1929), Rain (1932), Gabriel Over the White House (1933), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, directed by his son John. Huston’s last film was The Furies (1950) co-starring Barbara Stanwyck and Wendell Corey.

Vincent Price (1911 - 1993) was an American actor who worked on the stage, in film, radio, and television. He was also an art collector and author. Price established himself as a character actor in the 1940s with roles in films like The Song of  Bernadette (1943), Laura (1944), The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), and Leave Her to Heaven (1945). In the 1950s, he established himself as a star of horror films including House of Wax (1953), The Fly (1958), and House on Haunted Hill (1959). Toward the end of his career, Price had important roles in The Whales of August (1987) and Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990).

Glenn Langan (1917 - 1991) was an American character actor on film and stage. He appeared on Broadway in Glamour Preferred and Johnny Belinda. As a contract player at 20th Century-Fox, Langan had roles in Margie (1946), Dragonwyck (1946), Forever Amber (1947), and The Snake Pit (1948). Langan also starred on the radio in Murder is My Hobby and Mystery Is My Hobby.

Dragonwyck features a strong supporting cast that includes Anne Revere, Spring Byington, Connie Marshall, Jessica Tandy, Harry (Henry) Morgan, and Vivienne Osborne.

Connie Marshall and Gene Tierney

To watch the film on YouTube, click the link below.

Dragonwyck trivia:

  • Ernst Lubitsch was the original producer/director but had to drop out due to illness.
  • The the first film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
  • Gregory Peck was originally cast as Nicholas Van Ryn, but had to drop out when Lubitsch became sick and filming was delayed.
  • Vincent Price lost 30 pounds for the role.
  • Gene Tierney was the top dramatic actress at 20th Century-Fox and at the height of her popularity when this film was released. 

Why watch this film?

  • It is the first directorial effort for Joseph L. Mankiewicz who also wrote the screenplay.
  • Vincent Price has one of the best roles of his career in Dragonwyck.
  • The film is an example of the studio system at its height; the production values for this film are excellent.
  • This was the last film credit for Vivienne Osborne whose career goes back to the silent film era.

To join the discussion on July 26, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and link to the discussion on Zoom.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What genre would you categorize this film?
  2. Was Vincent Price convincing as Nicholas Van Ryn?
  3. Did Gene Tierney make a convincing Miranda Wells?
  4. What did you think of the supporting cast? Did you have a favorite?
  5. Did anything surprise you?
  6. What are some of the contrasts between Nicholas and Miranda?

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