For the Ida Lupino blogathon over at Miss Ida Lupino, I am going to profile Devotion, a film that stars both Ida Lupino and my favorite lady Olivia de Havilland. I first saw the film last year, during TCM’s Olivia de Havilland “Summer Under the Stars” day, a day on which I had been taping every single movie that came on (I am a huge Olivia de Havilland fan). I thought it a travesty that I had never seen Devotion, so I rushed home from my summer class to see it live as it aired.
The film concerns itself with the true story of the Bronte sisters–their lives, loves, and writings. As they compete with each other over the affections of Reverend Arthur Nichols, their brother is struggling desperately with alcohol and they try to save him from its ravages. Ida Lupino plays Emily Bronte, Olivia de Havilland plays Charlotte, and Nancy Coleman plays Anne, in a film that has a magnificent subject–but somehow misses its target.
Despite a brilliant cast that I have just outlined, the film itself could not be totally saved. It runs very slowly, with a plot that doesn’t really seem to know where it’s going, and the very seasoned actors seem to be lost in the material. This is a film that could have been so amazingly done, à la Wuthering Heights, but it seems as though the heart of Warner Brothers wasn’t in this one. However, I think that Lupino and de Havilland can really do no wrong, so the film is worth watching if only to see them.
Devotion is notable in being the final film that Olivia de Havilland made at Warner Brothers before her famous 1943 challenge of the studio over her contract. The film was completed in February 1943, but its release was delayed until April 1946 due to concerns over how it would be received while de Havilland’s lawsuit was pending. She won her landmark suit against the studio in a unanimous decision by the court, allowing her to leave her contract without having to serve the six months probation she had incurred while on suspension. The case is now studied by law students in classes dealing with entertainment law, and it set a precedent in the industry, indicating the first rumblings of the eradication of the studio system.
In all, Devotion is a flawed film, but it is worth seeing because of its relevance in the business and because of the pairing of two of the screen’s most radiant stars.