Wednesday, February 14, 2024

“The Forbidden Street,” the hit that never was

The Forbidden Street (1949) is a melodrama directed by Jean Negulesco starring Dana Andrews and Maureen O’Hara. The other cast members include Sybil Thorndike, Fay Compton, and A. E. Matthews. The movie, set in Victorian London, was filmed in England by Twentieth Century-Fox with funds that were frozen in Great Britain.


Based on the bestseller Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp (1905 – 1991), Fox paid the author $150,000 (over $2M in 2024 dollars) for the film rights. Sharp was a popular author of adult and children’s books. Cluny Brown (1944), was a huge bestseller and made into a successful film starring Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones. An earlier novel, The Nutmeg Tree (1937) was filmed as Julia Misbehaves (1948) with Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. So with that track record, Fox was sure they had a box office hit on their hands. Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan.

Dana Andrews as Henry and Maureen O'Hara as Adelaide

According to The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, the screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr. “failed completely to get a tight dramatic script from the book by simply stringing together some of its narrative episodes. And certainly, he missed organizing a consistent temper or mood,” 

The film had a competent director Jean Negulesco (Johnny Belinda). The cinematography was by Georges Perinal who worked successfully with Rene Clair, Michael Powell, Charlie Chaplin, and Otto Preminger. And let’s not forget Dana Andrews and Maureen O’Hara, two top stars of the day and important Fox contract actors.

Is the film a total failure? There are some questionable choices the producer made. For example, Dana Andrews has a dual role. For the first character he plays, his voice is dubbed by someone who sounds like Ronald Colman. It’s jarring at first to those of us who know what Dana Andrews’s voice sounds like. As Carl Rollyson tells it in his biography Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, “The picture upset Dana because he was dubbed, negating his carefully cultivated British accent, which—had it survived the editing process—would have made for a striking performance, as he reappears in the second part of the film as an American.

If you take the film on its own merits, it’s enjoyable. Andrews and O’Hara have good chemistry and work well together. The atmosphere of the mews—a street lined by buildings originally used as stables converted into dwellings—is well done. The mews was the forbidden street that O’Hara’s character was scolded for venturing into as a child.

The Plot

In late-1800s London, Adelaide Culver (O’Hara), a proper and well-to-do young lady marries her drawing teacher, an impoverished artist Henry Lambert (Andrews) who teaches young women like Adelaide to help pay the bills. To prove to her family that Henry didn’t marry her for her money, she moves to the mews with her husband. Unfortunately for Adelaide, Henry doesn’t love her and has been unfaithful with his artist models. An alcoholic to boot, Henry’s hobby was creating elaborate marionettes, rarely completing his paintings.

With money becoming an ever-increasing issue, Adelaide confronts Henry, who is drunk, about their deteriorating situation and marriage. Henry tries to grab Adelaide, but she pushes him away. Due to his drunkenness, Henry stumbles and falls down a flight of stairs and dies instantly.

Mrs. Mounsey (Thorndike) observed the argument between Adelaide and Henry before he fell to his death and used this knowledge to blackmail her. Enter Gilbert Lauderdale (Andrews) an American barrister who has a striking resemblance to Henry. Henry develops a real affection for Adelaide and gets rid of Mrs Mounsey by threatening to take her to court for blackmail. Gilbert is married to a woman who left him and moved to America so he cannot marry Adelaide. However, the two live together and call themselves Mr. and Mrs. Lambert. To keep things good and proper, the two sleep in separate rooms to avoid any sexual entanglements.

Dana Andrews as Gilbert and Maureen O'Hara

Gilbert discovers a trunk with the marionettes and is intrigued. Adelaide has long thought of them as nothing of value and a reminder of Henry. Gilbert connects with a man who knows marionettes—who declares the ones Henry made as excellent—and Henry learns how to operate the marionettes and before you know it, Adelaide and Gilbert are presenting marionette shows.  Their puppet theatre becomes a sensation, making the couple financially secure, and turning the mews into a fashionable place to visit. Adelaide’s success helps reunite her with her family.

Illustration of Maureen O'Hara and Dana Andrews by Alison Mutton

Then Gilbert’s wife Milly shows up at the mews. She tracked him down from an advertisement for the theatre. She’s looking for money due to his “improper” relationship with another woman. But Adelaide insists that Gilbert go back to his wife. At that, Milly comes clean. She divorced Gilbert years ago and married another man, allowing Gilbert to marry Adelaide.

A happy ending for Gilbert and Adelaide!

In Conclusion

The Forbidden Street wasn’t the blockbuster that Fox had hoped it would be, but wasn’t the disaster that some have called it.

Give The Forbidden Street a try. It’s on YouTube for free. What do you have to lose? You may even like it!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...