TBT: Anthony Adverse (1936)


If you give a boy the last name “Adverse,” you’ve got to expect that his life story is going to be rough. So it is with Anthony Adverse (1936), the tale of a lad born of, well, awkward circumstances that don’t get any better in his adulthood.

It wasn’t the the title character — played by Frederic March — that intrigued me enough to seek out this film. It was a picture of his love interest, Angela Guessippi, played by Olivia de Havilland, wearing this extravagant outfit, below, which turns out to be an opera stage costume worn at the very end of this two and a half hour long movie.

Olivia de Havilland, Anthony Adverse (1936)

Unfortunately, there are only fabulous costumes (gowns by Milo Anderson) at the very start of the film and at the very end. In between, I was subjected to a fairly tedious and depressing moralistic story about Anthony’s suffering. Why? Because he has to learn Valuable Life Lessons, I guess. But he started as a low-born foundling, so why bring him further down? IDK. It’s weird.

The movie starts off with his origin story — which he never learns, btw. A pretty young daughter of a Scottish merchant has been married off to a wealthy, slightly creepy Spanish nobleman, the ambassador to France before the Revolution. But he’s injured, their marriage is unconsummated, and he’s headed off to ‘the baths’ in the countryside for treatment. She’s headed off to get some lovin’ with a soldier who she’s really in love with, and of course gets knocked up. By the time her husband is done with the cure, she’s pregnant. Hubby kills her lover in a duel, the lady dies in childbirth, and the Spanish nobleman drops off the baby at an Italian convent.

1936 Anthony Adverse

Sweet young Maria marries cranky old Don Luis, she in tons of vaguely 18th-c. ruffles, he in super-shiny satin.

1936 Anthony Adverse

Maria makes a big deal of praying to her portable triptych altar, but she’s wearing this less-than-innocent 1930s nightgown & then she gets knocked-up outside her marriage. So much for religion.

1936 Anthony Adverse

I choose to believe this colorized still, because YAAASSS QUEEN, I love that pink embroidered coat of his.

Claude Rains & Louis Hayward, Anthony Adverse (1936)

Don Luis duels Maria’s lover, Denis Moore (obligatory Monty Python reference here).

Some 10 years later, the convent farms out the boy, that they’ve named Anthony, to a Scottish merchant who needs an apprentice. Obviously, this is the kid’s grandfather, which the merchant suspects, as does his sneaky maid, who has been pals with the Spanish nobleman all these years. Nobody says anything to the kid though, who they give the last name “Adverse.” He gets friendly with the cook’s daughter, Angela, and when they grow up, they fall in love. She also has aspirations of being an opera singer. By this time, the French Revolution has toppled the monarchy, and Napoleon has taken over and invaded Italy.

1936 Anthony Adverse

Twu wuv! And a sexy high collar, rwow.

Fredric March, Anthony Adverse (1936)

Anthony in linen with a straw hat, off to Havana.

The plot is a weird cross of capitalist forces fighting against romantic love, even from the start, but especially once Anthony grows up and marries Angela. He wants to work for the Scottish merchant he considers his patron (but who’s really his grandfather) and pay off that man’s debts, while also making his own fortune though various deals that include slave trading in Cuba and Africa. But that causes him to reject his Catholic faith and lose his wife. He tries to claw his way back to both of these, but only manages to regain a small amount of personal satisfaction in the end — although the one thing he does get is the financial settlement owed to him. The movie is inconsistent in punishing and rewarding Anthony.

The costumes are also inconsistent, at least in how shiny and exciting they are. The first 30 minutes are frilly and fun with Anthony’s mother, Maria (Anita Louise) in very ’30s interpretations of 1770s gowns. Her nasty unwanted husband, Don Luis (Claude Rains), also gets gloriously embroidered satin suits and high-heeled shoes.

1936 Anthony Adverse

When Anthony and his love, Angela, meet, she’s just a renfaire wench or something.

Then we get a lot of dull stuff, until the very last 30 minutes of the movie, set in the early 1800-1810s. There’s a fabulous masked ball where Napoleon, Angela, and Anthony almost meet, and then the aforementioned opera performance where Angela wears that amazing costume.

1936 Anthony Adverse

Angela moves up in the world, pimpin’ it with Napoleon.

Olivia de Havilland, Anthony Adverse (1936)

Close-up of that ballgown.

In addition to a few gowns on Olivia de Havilland, I have to mention the ensembles worn by Gale Sondergaard as Faith Paleologus, the sneaky maid who later marries that horrible Spanish nobleman. She gets some amazing Regency bad girl outfits, all dark, stripey, wickedly wonderful. She was also the first woman to receive the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, as this award for actress and actor was instituted at the ninth Academy Awards.

Gale Sondergaard, Anthony Adverse (1936)

Faith is not happy to see Anthony return from his travels. But I’m happy to see her stripey day dress.

1936 Anthony Adverse

Faith and Don Luis surprise everyone by showing up at Napoleon’s masquerade ball.

1936 Anthony Adverse

She’s dressed to kill in this black gown with cameo jewelry.


Are you adverse to giving this one a view?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

4 Responses

  1. ladylavinia1932

    Uh . . . I honestly do not know what to say about this movie. I do find the costumes – especially those for Gale Sondergaard, very interesting. Let me think about this.

  2. Kt

    I am sure Lady Catherine (Edna May Oliver?) wore a similar cameo necklace in the Greer Garson version of P&P.

  3. Laura

    I loved this movie as a kid- I was 9 years old, and a huge Frederic March fan because the vision of his Jean Valjean carrying Marius through the sewers of Paris imprinted on my young mind. I watched all of these old movies, and this one was a special favourite. To be fair, I haven’t seen it since, though I have seen plenty of Gale Sondergaard, and always enjoy her.