Tender Is The Night

  • 1962
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama

Famed author Fitzgerald's semiautobiographical novel of the woman-induced downfall of a man who once saw a brilliant career in his future, set amidst the decadence of post-WWI Europe with its many American expatriates, is given a slow, syrupy cinematic treatment here by director King (whose habit was to dwell unduly on noncritical visuals). The story opens...read more

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Famed author Fitzgerald's semiautobiographical novel of the woman-induced downfall of a man who once saw a brilliant career in his future, set amidst the decadence of post-WWI Europe with its many American expatriates, is given a slow, syrupy cinematic treatment here by director King

(whose habit was to dwell unduly on noncritical visuals). The story opens at the posh French Riviera villa occupied by affluent young Jones and her husband, Robards. Among their party guests is a beautiful cinema starlet, St. John, to whom Robards takes a fancy. Jones's jealousy at this occurrence

brings on a relapse of a mental disorder to which she had once been prey, and she creates an ugly scene. In flashback, the picture shifts to a psychiatric clinic in Zurich, Switzerland, staffed by Robards, who performs his doctoring chores under the friendly supervision of an older physician,

Lukas. Remanded to the care of Robards, Jones--whose illness was induced by an early incestuous sexual assault by her father--effects the appropriate emotional transference during her treatment and falls desperately in love with Robards. The latter is under her spell as well, a condition the

talented young psychiatrist confesses to his mentor, Lukas. The older doctor warns his colleague against marriage to Jones, pointing out that his function--as Robards should well know--is to serve as a crutch for the temporarily disabled, a barrier against another breakdown. Lukas warns that Jones

will soon discover Robards to be not a god, not a haven offering respite from emotional turmoil, but merely a frail and fallible human being. Robards disregards the portentous advice and marries Jones. Continuing the type of relationship they had developed for therapeutic reasons at the clinic,

Robards accords his bride her every folly, playing a nurturing role through a seemingly endless whirl of high-society socializing. Party follows party--all funded through the none-too-gracious funnel of Fontaine, Jones's older sister and guardian, who holds the purse strings of the family

fortune--their lives a hedonistic, empty carousel of pleasure. Finally, the tragic end of besotted Ewell, a once-great Broadway songwriter turned expatriate drunk, in a gratuitous bar brawl brings edification to Robards. He resolves to rejoin the Zurich clinic staff to put some purpose into his

dissolute existence. It is too late, though; his support of Jones's chosen path has sapped him of will. He is a failure at the clinic, unable to regain his former skills, using alcohol as personal therapy. Leaving Lukas again, he tries to recapture the lifestyle he formerly led with his bride but

fails even at this. Jones, strengthened in direct proportion to Robards's increasing deterioration, asks him to divorce her so that she might marry her lover. Too proud to beg, and too dissolute to battle, he accedes to her request. Rejected by both of the worlds he has explored so fervently,

Robards departs, a prodigal returning to the tiny town of his birth in the US, hoping to find renewal of spirit.

Jones was a little long in the tooth to play this spirited simulation of author Fitzgerald's disturbed wife Zelda; she had not appeared in a picture since A FAREWELL TO ARMS five years previously. Robards plays his role without suggesting the gradual dissolution required of his character, seeming

too much in control at all times. The people and the period had been covered before--in the 1957 release of Ernest Hemingway's THE SUN ALSO RISES, which had a lot more elan but lacked the period flavor of TENDER IS THE NIGHT. Hurting for cash, Fitzgerald had tried unsuccessfully to peddle his

none-too-successful novel (in terms of sales, that is) to Hollywood as early as 1934. With the assistance of a younger, untested writer, Charles Marquis Warren (who was later to become a successful TV writer, originating such series as "Gunsmoke" and "Rawhide"), Fitzgerald prepared his own screen

treatment of his novel. He then financed a trip to Hollywood for Warren, who had received $250 for his screen-treatment efforts, and Warren made the rounds of all the major studios trying to sell the concept. Warren had letters of introduction from his better-known peer, saying of the young writer

"I haven't believed in anybody so strongly since Ernest Hemingway." All to no avail; the studio moguls were distressed by the theme of incestuous molestation leading to the emotional imbalance of the heroine. Only two studios--RKO and Samuel Goldwyn--nibbled at the bait; Goldwyn's studio writers

actually prepared their own synopsis of the proposed property and telephoned Fitzgerald to sound him out but made no firm offer for the film rights. (Fitzgerald and Warren had actually bowdlerized the novel in their own screen treatment, softening the sexuality to better suit the Hollywood

formula.) Producer David O. Selznick, a longtime admirer of the author's work, was another who nibbled lightly in 1934, writing to an associate, "I can't get anything out of this synopsis, but I am such a Scott Fitzgerald fan that I hope to be able to read the book." Selznick did read the book

later and loved it. He purchased the screen rights from Fitzgerald's estate (the author's daughter Scottie was reluctant to sell such rights to filmmakers where her father's presumably autobiographical works were concerned for fear of what Hollywood might do to his memory) and worked on the script

with writer Moffat. This was to be the ailing Selznick's final film, even though he did not himself produce it. Selznick sold the script and the services of his wife, Jones, to 20th Century-Fox and prodigiously flooded the director with memos about the project, in which he maintained a sustaining

interest. The sale contract called for Selznick to have casting approval as well as final script approval; however Selznick reportedly felt that the toilers in Fox's fields ignored his advice and ruined the film. The song "Tender Is the Night" by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster received an

Academy Award nomination.

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Famed author Fitzgerald's semiautobiographical novel of the woman-induced downfall of a man who once saw a brilliant career in his future, set amidst the decadence of post-WWI Europe with its many American expatriates, is given a slow, syrupy cinematic tre… (more)

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