8 April 2004 | theowinthrop
The Murder that Helped Topple a Monarchy
This excellent period drama is based on a popular novel of 1939 by Rachel Field. It told a version of the story of the murder, in Paris in 1847, of Fanny Sebastiani Choiseul-Praslin, Duchesse and wife of Theobald, Duc de Choiseul-Praslin. Fanny was the daughter of Marachal Horace Sebastiani, one of the leading political and social figures in the July Monarchy or Orleans Monarchy of France, under King Louis Phillippe (1830 - 1848). This was a middle-class supported monarchy, and was far more liberal than it's predecessor monarchy under King Louis's cousins the Bourbons. But by 1847 it had grown corrupt, and it was suffering a series a serious scandals. The murder of Duchesse Fanny by her husband was the last real blow. Supposedly the marriage had collapsed due to the growing relationship between Theobald and the children's governess, Mlle. Helene Deluzy-Desportes. The actual relationship between the governess and the Duc remains questioned, although most believe she was his lover. Rachel Field, a descendant of Fanny and her later husband, Rev. Martyn Field, presented the governess as the victim of circumstances (working in a household that was falling apart). Finally, whatever the cause, Theobald beat Fanny to death, and tried to make it look like a burglar did it. Instead the Surete was not fooled, and Theobald was arrested. But while under arrest he took poison, and he died denying his guilt and denying the involvement of the governess. Fanny came to America, where she taught school and married into the Field family (her brother-in-law Cyrus was a financier who laid the Atlantic Cable, and her brother-in-law Stephen was an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court). As for the French, they blamed the government for allowing the Duc to escape justice, and within a year the July Monarchy was overthrown. Marachel Sebastiani (Montague Love in the film) died prematurely in 1851 - the last victim of the crime.
The film, except for the pro-Deluzy-Desportes slant, is excellent with a fine, restrained performance by Davis, an intense one by Boyer (who finally explodes in one scene where he shows his thorough hatred for his wife), and a marvelous performance by Barbara O'Neill as Fanny. I would thoroughly recommend this one for movie fans - a fine example of the best of Warner's historical films.