AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Barretts of Wimpole Street
Director: Sidney Franklin (Dir)
Release Date:   21 Sep 1934
Premiere Information:   Pittsburgh premiere: 14 Sep 1934
Production Date:   23 Mar--late Jun 1934
Duration (in mins):   109-111
Duration (in reels):   11
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Cast:   Norma Shearer (Elizabeth Barrett)  
    Fredric March (Robert Browning)  
    Charles Laughton (Edward Moulton-Barrett)  
    Maureen O'Sullivan (Henrietta Barrett)  
    Katharine Alexander (Anabel Barrett)  
    Ralph Forbes (Captain Surtees Cook)  
    Marion Clayton (Bella Hedley)  
    Ian Wolfe (Harry Bevan)  
    Ferdinand Munier (Dr. Chambers)  
    Una O'Connor (Wilson)  
    Leo Carroll (Dr. Ford-Waterlow)  
    Vernon Downing (Octavius Barrett)  
    Neville Clark (Charles Barrett)  
    Matthew Smith (George Barrett)  
    Robert Carlton (Alfred Barrett)  
    Allan Conrad (Henry Barrett)  
    Peter Hobbes (Septimus Barrett)  
    Flush (Himself)  
    Lowden Adams (Butler)  

Summary: In London of 1845, renowned poet Elizabeth Browning lives quietly as an invalid with her tyranical, pious father Edward and her six younger brothers and two younger sisters, Henrietta and Anabel. Although nearly forty years old, Elizabeth is so dominated by her widowed businessman father that she is unable to refuse even his most trivial command. By denying them parental approval to court men, Edward, who believes that romantic love is a sin, also controls Henrietta and Anabel, and only allows Elizabeth to correspond with fellow poet Robert Browning because he believes the relationship is strictly professional. When Robert finally visits the bedridden Elizabeth, however, he reveals that, through her letters and poetry, he has fallen in love with her. Elizabeth tries to dismiss Robert's proclamations, but he is adamant and declares his intention to see her often. Three months later, Elizabeth's physical condition, which previously had been diagnosed as terminal, improves so greatly that her doctors recommend that she spend the winter in Italy. Buoyed by the news, Elizabeth descends the house stairs by herself and thrills Robert with her love-induced rejuvenation. After Robert announces that he, too, is going to Italy, Edward arrives and, soundly chastizing Elizabeth for over-extending herself, instantly deflates his daughter's resolve. Edward then refuses to grant Elizabeth permission to go to Italy and calls her selfish and ungrateful for suggesting the separation. Although Elizabeth briefly defends her right to live and be happy, she once again gives in to Edward and tells Robert the trip to Italy is cancelled. Determined to free Elizabeth from her father, Robert forcefully proposes to her, but while admitting her love, Elizabeth maintains that she is too ill to marry. Later, however, Elizabeth learns that Edward, who has been apprised of Robert's true feelings, is buying a house in Surrey in order to separate her from the poet. Sobered by the seriousness of Edward's actions, Elizabeth promises Robert that she will give him a decision regarding their marriage before her father returns from Surrey. To the surprise of Elizabeth and Henrietta, who has been been courting Captain Surtees Cook in secret, Edward returns home early and catches his daughters entertaining the officer. Outraged by Henrietta's confession of love, Edward demands that, unless she swears on a Bible that she will not see Cook again, he will disown her. Henrietta reluctantly makes the vow, after which Elizabeth condemns her father and, through her maid Wilson, sends a letter to Robert in which she accepts his proposal. Overjoyed, Robert tells Wilson that Elizabeth and he are eloping to Italy that night. Elizabeth is terrified by the immediacy of Robert's plan and at first balks, but when Edward clearly reveals the unnatural, clinging nature of his love for her, she regains her courage and prepares to leave. After Elizabeth sneaks away with Wilson, Henrietta, who has vowed to break her pledge regarding Cook, informs her father of her departure. Stunned by his loss, Edward vindictively orders one of his sons to destroy Elizabeth's dog, but is told that the animal is safe with his mistress. While Edward fumes at his defeat, Elizabeth weds Robert. 

Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. (Loew's, Inc.)
Distribution Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.  
Director: Sidney Franklin (Dir)
  Hugh Boswell (Asst dir)
Producer: Irving G. Thalberg (Prod)
Writer: Ernest Vajda (Scr)
  Claudine West (Scr)
  Donald Ogden Stewart (Scr)
Photography: William Daniels (Photog)
  Al Lane (2d cam)
  Bill Riley (Asst cam)
  Floyd Porter (Gaffer)
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons (Art dir)
  Harry McAfee (Art dir assoc)
  Edwin B. Willis (Art dir assoc)
Film Editor: Margaret Booth (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Hal Sosser (Set dresser)
Costumes: Adrian (Gowns)
Music: Herbert Stothart (Mus score)
Sound: Douglas Shearer (Rec dir)
  Gavin Burns (Mixer)
Production Misc: Arnold Webster (Grip)
  Jack D. Moore (Props)
  Conrad Kahn (Stageman)
  William Grimes (Still photog)
  Howard Dietz (Press agent)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the play The Barretts of Wimpole Street by Rudolf Besier (London, 23 Sep 1930).
Authors: Rudolf Besier

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Metro Goldwyn Mayer Corp. 28/8/1934 dd/mm/yyyy LP4940 Yes

PCA NO: 146
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

 
Genre: Biography
Sub-Genre: Historical
 
Subjects (Major): Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  Robert Browning
  Fathers and daughters
  Great Britain--History--Social life and customs
  Invalids
  Poets
  Romance
 
Subjects (Minor): Brothers
  Businessmen
  Dogs
  Elopement
  Letters
  London (England)
  Maids
  Officers (Military)
  Physicians
  Piety
  Proposals (Marital)
  Sisters
  Weddings
  Widowers

Note: Rudolf Besier's play had its initial performance at the Malvern Festival in England on 20 Aug 1930. The title on the viewed print was A Forbidden Alliance , presumably a television title created to avoid confusion with M-G-M's 1957 remake of Besier's play. According to modern biographical sources, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, whose father, Edward Moulton, took the name Barrett after he acquired a Jamaican estate, suffered a spinal injury at the age of fifteen that left her a semi-invalid for many years. As portrayed in the film, Barrett married Robert Browning in 1846 and lived most of her remaining years in Italy.
       A 1932 HR news item announced that Marion Davies was to star in the picture. M-G-M borrowed Charles Laughton from Paramount for the production. According to a production news item in HR , the studio tested over one hundred actors in an effort to find six who looked sufficiently alike to be cast as Elizabeth's brothers. A pre-production HR news item announced that M-G-M was borrowing Mona Barrie from Fox for a part in the film, but that actress did not appear in the final film.
       The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture but lost to It Happened One Night . Norma Shearer was nominated as Best Actress but lost to Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night . FD 's "Poll of Critics" voted the film as one the ten best pictures of 1934. Modern sources add George Kirby ( Coachman ), Robert Bolder ( Old man ) and Margaret Seddon to the cast. Besier's play has been adapted several times: On 9 Sep 1946, Lux Radio Theatre broadcast a version starring Loretta Young and Brian Aherne, in his original stage role; on 5 Dec 1950, the CBS television network broadcast a version on its Prudential Playhouse , which was produced and directed by Donald Davis and starred Helen Hayes and Robert Pastene; the ABC television network broadcast a version for Kraft Theatre on 22 Oct 1953, which starred Valerie Cossart and Alexander Scourby and was produced and directed by Fielder Cook; on 8 Jun 1955, CBS broadcast another version, directed by James Sheldon and starring Geraldine Fitzgerald and Robert Douglas; the NBC television network broadcast its version, which was adapted by Besier and directed by Vincent Donehume and starred Katharine Cornell and Anthony Quayle, on 2 Apr 1956; and in 1957, M-G-M released its second version, which also was directed by Sidney Franklin and starred Jennifer Jones, Bill Travers and John Gielgud. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   22 Mar 34   p. 2.
Daily Variety   13 Jul 34   p. 3.
Film Daily   8 Sep 34   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Jun 32   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   6 Mar 34   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Mar 34   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Apr 34   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   25 Jun 34   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Jul 34   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Jul 34   p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily   14 Jul 34   p. 2.
Motion Picture Herald   4 Aug 34   pp. 30-32.
MPSI   1 Feb 35   p. 26.
New York Times   29 Sep 34   p. 12.
Variety   2 Oct 34   p. 37.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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