Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dragonwyck (1946)

The story starts in 1844, Connecticut in a farm who belongs to the Wells, a God-fearing and modest family who are satisfied with their fate. All except for the 18 years old, Miranda, the older daughter. The girl dreams of a completely different life from the one she has, always fussing about her physical appearance and her clothes. This perpetually annoys her father who sees her ambition and vanity with suspicion and disappointment.

Everything changes with the arrival of a letter from Mrs Wells cousin, the patroon Nicholas Van Ryn. He invites one of the couple daughters to live in his manor – Dragonwyck - and become the governess of his young child. Miranda sees this as the perfect opportunity to escape her unexciting life. After some discussion and some warnings it is agreed that she will accept their cousin invitation.

Accompanied by her father, she leaves to New York where she is supposed to meet this mysterious and wealthy cousin. Nicholas is surprised with Miranda's lovely physique and manners. And the young woman is immediately in awe in front of her handsome and worldly cousin. They both leave to Dragonwyck shortly after, but the arrival of a pretty and young cousin feels like a treat to Nicholas's wife, Johanna. The newcomer is completely oblivious of the new tension between husband and wife.

Johanna ends up dying under mysterious circumstances and Nicholas asks Miranda do marry him and become the new Mrs Van Ryn. The young woman sees all her dreams come true but rather quickly she learns that her husband is not who she believed...

After reading Anya Seton's book Dragonwyck, I knew I had to see the movie , especially when I found out that Vincent Price was playing the brooding aristocrat Nicholas Van Ryn. The adaptation is quite good, Mankiewicz really managed to capture the gloomy atmosphere from Seton's Gothic novel, even if some plot holes did confuse me at times.

Vincent Price interpretation of Nicholas Van Ryn is perfect! He can be amazingly charming and chill you to the bones at the same time. It's obvious why Miranda feels attracted to him, but his icy and distant look also makes you believe him capable of the worst cruelties. The scene where he collects his tenants payments, sitting in his chair like a feudal lord is magnificent. Van Ryn is the last descendent of an aristocratic line who ruled those lands for centuries and tries to hold to them while the world changes. It's more than clear that Vincent Price had fun playing this role and his acting stands out since his first scene.

In the beginning, Miranda can come across as a snob and rather silly chit, but sometimes you can feel that underneath all that fluff, there's some deep of character. Gene Tierney is a lovely and dreamy Miranda. She feels completely out of place among her family and hopes to get an opportunity to experience the life she wishes for herself. We follow her in her new journey watching her grow and become wiser. I enjoyed the interactions Price-Tierney and there's definitely some chemistry going on between these two actors, even if Price's talent overshadows almost everyone.

A little note about Walter Hudson who gives us a wonderful performance playing Ephraim Wells and Glenn Langam, the laid back Doctor Jeff Turner who will have an important part in the downfall of Nicholas Van Ryn.

As I mentioned before, the adaptation is quite good and follows the novel rather closely. But there are some plot holes that leave you wondering the fate of some characters. The creepy servant Magda or the Van Ryn's young daughter, both disappear after Johanna Van Ryn's death and we don't know what happened to them. Other aspects of the story also remained unexplored, like Nicholas' drug addiction who is, at my eyes, an essential part his character and only mentioned quickly during the movie.

Dragonwyck is certainly entertaining, especially for Vincent Price, but I do recommend reading the novel before watching the movie.

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038492/


  1. I love Vincent Price, he's always delightfully creepy.

  2. I watched this a few months ago on TCM, and it made me want to read the book again. I wish that TV companies in the UK would discover and Daphne du Maurier's books (not Rebecca, we don't need more adaptations of that book) and produce TV films of them. I thought Vincent Price was excellent as Nicholas, sinister yet attractive. One of the things I love about Dragonwyck is that it's a gothic novel but set in America not England.

  3. Misfit and Elizabeth, I couldn't agree more! Vincent Price is one of the few actors who could be creepy and attractive at the same time. It's certainly not an easy task! And it was obvious in this movie that he really enjoyed his role.

    I remember reading a few months ago that the BBC was thinking about diversifying their literary adaptations, so let's hope Daphne du Maurier is among their choices, Elizabeth.:)

  4. I would love to see more Du Maurier on film. There is a film adaption of My Cousin Rachel starring a very young Richard Burton that is impossible to find on video. The D du M website has clips of them, but not the whole thing.

    Du Maurier would be a wonder *Season* feature on HT. Just sayin'....

  5. She is on our list of authors for the next seasons, Misfit.;-)

  6. Drug addiction simply could not be discussed in a movie in 1946, so the film makers couldn't go there. Too bad because Vincent Price could have pulled that off brilliantly.

  7. Yep, definitely to move up in the TBS pile...