Many years ago my husband was learning to play the piano and somewhere along the line acquired a book of sheet music by Hoagy Carmichael. One of the songs in the songbook was “Ivy.” At the top of the page it said “Theme of the Universal International Picture “Ivy” starring Joan Fontaine. Well I had never heard of this film but this was pre-internet so did not have an easy way to find it. Cut to two years ago and my husband and I were attending Noir City Chicago and lo and behold they were showing Lodger,” another of the so-called gaslight or gothic noirs written by Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes,
Almost exactly ten years after playing the “Damsel in Distress” 1937, Joan Fontaine appears as the damsel, Ivy Lexton, who causes distress for three different men; her husband, Jervis Lexton, played by Richard Ney, her lover she has grown disenchanted with, Roger Gretorex played by Patric Knowles, and the wealthy man she sets her sights on, Miles Rushworth, played by Herbert Marshall. Joan Fontaine’s own mother, Lilian Fontaine, plays the mother of Miles Rushworth’s fiance.
Joan Fontaine is at her most dazzlingly beautiful and beguiling in this film. She is often photographed in close up and wears exquisite Edwardian clothing and hats designed by Orry-Kelly. It’s easy to see why the three men fall under her spell. Ivy is amoral when it comes to her desire for wealth and beauty and in some ways behaves as an automaton as if she is as powerless as in a Greek tragedy. Even the set decorations designed by Richard Riedel and Russell Gausman overseen by producer and art director William Cameron Menzies, with its neoclassical garlands and amphoras on the walls like Wedge-wood evokes the Greek amphitheater.
Coincidentally the haunting harpsichord motif that signals when Ivy is about to do something regrettable is composed by Daniele Amfitheatrof. I think this film is the first time I have heard harpsichord music used in this way. The score is beautiful, and airs from the song “Ivy” signal when Ivy Lexton is happy.
There are three key scenes which are enhanced by the cinematography of Russell Metty, who creates a sense of foreboding with lowering skies and clouds, light and darkness in corners and corridors. The first scene is the one in which Ivy visits a spiritualist at the beginning of the film. The shots are close up and claustrophobic. The harpsichord motif is introduced and the fate of Ivy is set in motion. The second scene takes place on the shores of Dover where a group of curiosity seekers are waiting to see the results of the 1909 Channel flight contest. The wind is blowing and the clouds are ominous when Miles Rushmore appears in his automobile and takes notice of Mrs. Lexton, Ivy. The third scene takes place at a house party. Roger Gretorex, Ivy’s lover, corners her in a gazebo and while emotions are flaring, a huge fireworks display illuminates their figures against the dark cloudy sky.
I have tried to avoid giving any spoilers by describing the plot in detail because this film is best watched without prior knowledge for maximum suspense. Suffice it to say you will be bewitched, bothered, and bewildered by “Ivy.”
This fantastic post was written by Elizabeth Nelson for the Joan Fontaine Centenary Blogathon. This is the first guest post for In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood, and what a wonderful contribution it is. Thank you Elizabeth for taking part.