This was the second movie version of Thornton Wilder's Pulitizer Prize-winning novel, the first filmed as a near-silent in 1929 with Lily Damita, Ernest Torrence, and Raquel Torres. Set in 18th century Peru, the film opens at the chapel of San Luis where Brother Juniper (Woods) chats with
local peasants. Suddenly the century-old bridge which leads to the chapel collapses, killing five people. The bridge collapse takes place off screen so the viewer does not know who the victims were until the film's end. Brother Juniper sets out to learn more about the five people in hopes that it
will help him to better understand the tragedy. He journeys to Lima and meets Uncle Pio (Tamiroff), an actor who knows everyone and virtually everything of interest in the city. The story is then told in flashback with Pio and others filling in the details. Much of the story centers on Micaela
(Bari), a beautiful street singer who becomes Pio's protege. He believes she can be a great talent and works ceaselessly to help her develop as an actress. Brother Juniper also learns about twin brothers Manuel and Esteban (both played by Lederer). Manuel is an adventurous sailor while Esteban is
the studios public letter writer. Though they are very different, they are devoted to one another, coming into conflict over only one thing--Micaela. Manuel loves her while Esteban doesn't trust her and thinks that she will be bad for his brother. Manuel's pursuit of Micaela, which she encourages,
is interrupted when he goes to the sea.
In the meantime, Micaela's star rises on the stage, attracting the attention of the Viceroy (Calhern). Sophisticated and cultured, the Viceroy is also bored, unhappy about serving as ruler of Peru, far from the grand courts of Europe. Micaela gives him a new zest for life, however, and it isn't
long before he is keeping regular company with her. The relationship is not well received by many in the royal court, particularly the Marquesa (Nazimova). An ambitious schemer, the Marquesa had wanted her daughter to marry the Viceroy and so dominated the girl that she finally ran away, married,
and now lives in Spain. Lonely, the Marquesa asked the Abbess (Yurka) to provide her with a companion, and Pepita (Lorring) was dispatched from the convent to live with the Marquesa. The thought of the former street urchin Micaela now winning the affection of the Viceroy so angers the Marquesa
that she pretends to be Micaela's friend, all the while plotting her downfall. Meanwhile, Manuel has returned from the sea and wants to renew his relationship with Micaela. This upsets the Viceroy who has Manuel imprisoned and then asks Micaela to accompany him to Spain where they can be wed. He
tells her they will depart the next day for San Luis on the first leg of their journey. She immediately goes to Pio, tells him she doesn't want to marry the Viceroy and asks for his help. He arranges to have Manuel broken out of jail and then goes to the Viceroy and cons him into giving Manuel a
pardon, effective one week after the Viceroy has left. The next day, the Viceroy, his aide Don Rubio (Hepburn), and Micaela depart for San Luis, followed by the Marquesa and Pepita, the Marquesa having decided to return to Spain to reconcile with her daughter. Accompanying them is Esteban. Both
Manuel and Pio have already departed for San Luis and are awaiting the others. The bridge at San Luis Rey is ancient and narrow and can only be crossed on foot. The Viceroy crosses ahead of the others, instructing Don Rubio to escort Micaela across. He heads across with the Marquesa, Pepita, and
Esteban, while an aged peasant begins crossing from the other side, heading for the market to sell his wheat. Micaela is about to cross, but Manuel then appears and as they embrace the bridge collapses, sending Esteban, the Marquesa, Pepita, Don Rubio, and the peasant to their deaths. At the
film's end, Pio tells Brother Juniper that the Viceroy took the tragedy as an omen and departed Peru without Micaela, returning to Spain where he married. Micaela went back to the stage and she and Manuel were seeing each other, but he couldn't say if marriage was in the cards for the pair.
The film hews close to Wilder's story and takes much of its dialog directly from the book. Much of it seems very stagey, an obvious soundstage production with cheap sets and crude backgrounds. Though often stilted, the production benefits greatly from the presence of veteran performers Tamiroff
and Calhern. Tamiroff provides most of the laughs as the wise and playful man-about-town, and Calhern brings just the right amount of sophisticated weariness to his role. Bari is fine as the street singer turned actress and also manages to get some laughs in her training sessions with Tamiroff.
The rest of the cast, save for Hepburn's rather fey aide to the Viceroy, is forgettable. The device of not revealing who the victims of the bridge collapse are until the film's end works well and director Lee keeps things moving along a reasonable pace. The film earned an Oscar nomination for its
Cast & Details See all »
- Rating: NR
- Review: This was the second movie version of Thornton Wilder's Pulitizer Prize-winning novel, the first filmed as a near-silent in 1929 with Lily Damita, Ernest Torrence, and Raquel Torres. Set in 18th century Peru, the film opens at the chapel of San Luis where B… (more)