Thursday, July 2, 2015

Uncle Vanya (1957)

In 1956, Franchot Tone starred as the doctor in the 4th Street production of Anton Chekhov's play Uncle Vanya. After the run of the play, Franchot would produce and star in the film version. An interesting bit of trivia is that a young Franchot had originally played a character in a 1929 production of Uncle Vanya in New York in his early theater days.

Franchot plays Dr. Mikhail Lvovich Astroff, an aging doctor who takes care of all in his rural village. When a wealthy, elderly scholar and his young wife visit their country estate, Astroff's world, along with that of the estate's servants, revolves around the urban couple and their extravagant needs. Astoff and Vanya, former brother-in-law to the professor and uncle to the professor's daughter Sonia, are both immediately attracted to and distracted by the professor's beautiful wife, Elena

The professor's daughter Sonia is secretly in love with Astroff, but he is often drunk on Vodka and does not notice her. Franchot plays his drunken scenes with so much boyish mischief and delight. One thing that I love about Franchot's acting throughout his career is how expressive his face is. I imagine his original training as a stage actor and the need to get his emotions across to an audience in their theater seats is what influenced Franchot to incorporate so much facial acting and expression into his performances. Uncle Vanya is a fine example of Franchot's talents in this area.

Under the guise of helping Sonia tell the doctor about her love, the beautiful wife Elena uses the opportunity to go after Astroff herself. Astroff realizes that this flirtation is merely a game for the lovely Elena, but still falls prey to her charms. Elena is played by Franchot's fourth wife Dolores Dorn. Because they kept their real-life relationship so private, it is nice to see their interplay in Uncle Vanya scenes. The two were already secretly married when this play was filmed, but film audiences at the time had no idea. Franchot and Dolores had met during the play's first run in New York City in 1956.

When the professor and his wife announce that they are selling the country estate and returning to the city, the lives of Vanya, Astroff, and Sonia are thrown into dismay. All of the actors in this intimate drama are skilled stage performers and turn in wonderful performances. What I enjoy most about this film and Franchot's television appearances is that it gives me a chance to experience what it might have been like to see Franchot on stage. Acting on the stage was Franchot's first love and his passion for the theater is evident in this adaptation of Uncle Vanya.


 I highly recommend Uncle Vanya! It is available on DVD on Amazon.

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