This lavish but overlong film remains true to the 1200-page best-seller on which it is based, though judging by the result one wonders to what extent this is admirable. Popular and acclaimed in its day, and technically highly skilled, ANTHONY ADVERSE subtitutes historical pageantry for
drama and melodramatic flourish for characterization whenever it gets the chance.
March plays the title role, an illegitimate child whose father (Hayward) is killed in a duel and who is raised in a convent by a gentle priest (O'Neill). Adopted by a kindly Scottish trader (Gwenn), the growing boy soon finds romance with a girl (de Havilland) who aspires to sing grand opera.
Although they marry, the couple are separated when a crucial note is blown away by a gust of wind. Anthony goes crazy with despair and jungle fever for several years while managing his stepfather's questionable African interests, and when he returns to Europe he finds his stepfather dead, his wife
a diva linked romantically to Napoleon (Rollo Lloyd), and his inheritance jeoparadized by the wicked Don Luis (Rains), who killed his real father back when. The wrap-up includes chicanery, a duel, and a surprise from de Havilland.
This massive but choppy historical soaper, aiming to both jerk tears and swash buckles, now seems inferior to other similar but more modest films. March has his moments, but seems more concerned with appearing young and stalwart than with giving the role the tongue-in-cheek dash it so desperately
needs. De Havilland is mere decoration, and it is up to several of the supporting players, particularly Rains and Sondergaard (as a scheming, ambitious housekeeper), to serve as energetic foils to the film's rampant displays of virtue. Grot's sets and Gaudio's cinematography add definite sweep,
and Korngold's score is both majestic and melancholic, befitting the romantic tragedy of star-crossed lovers this film would dearly like to be.