The film, however, brings all the characters and their vying passions to life far better than does the novel. Charles Boyer wavers on the brink of insanity as the honorable but tormented Duc de Choiseul-Praslin. Scion of an ancient but impoverished family, the Duc has married the nouvelle-riche Fanny Sebastiani, daughter of one of Napoleon's generals. Barbara O'Neill, who played Scarlett O'Hara's saintly and refined mother, demonstrates her range as the hysterical, paranoid, oversexed Fanny, dripping with venom and religiosity. She would have stolen the show from any other female actress but Bette Davis. Bette is the restrained Huguenot governess Mademoiselle Deluzy, who brings order and dignity into the chaotic household, winning the hearts of the Duc and his children, thus earning for herself the Fanny's hatred. Davis simmers along as Mademoiselle Deluzy, who must face the stigma of sins she did not commit for, as so often happens, people are more incensed by the platonic friendship between the Duc and the governess than they would have been by a full blown love affair. Perhaps it is because such romantic but chaste relationships are sometimes more intense and longer lasting than sexual flings.
At any rate, Henriette pays a high price for the Duc's admiration and devotion. It is a most bitter tragedy, made all the more so by the reality of the actual story. The family of the Duc de Praslin-Choiseul was destroyed by Fanny's violent murder. Henriette found peace in a faraway land, where she passed on the story which became an American novel and classic film. Share