“BROTHERS”-LY LOVE

25 Dec

enoch

A few weeks ago, over Thanksgiving hour doeuvres, several friends asked me to describe the plots of a few of the better films that were about to be released in theaters. As I began to talk about “Brothers” (Lions Gate, 12/4, trailer) and noted that it reminded me of “Enoch Arden,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson‘s famous 1864 poem, person after person began to chime in with examples of other films that seemed awfully similar, as well.

The more I thought about it, the more fascinating I found it that so many films appear to be derived from the same core story — Person A is informed that his or her spouse, Person B, is dead; eventually, Person A finds love again, with Person C, sometimes producing a child in the process; then, Person A finds out that Person B is actually alive, creating a difficult situation for all concerned — and I set out to compile as complete a list as possible of all of the examples that fit that bill.

As it turns out, this same story has been consistently told and re-told for over a century (as early as 1932, a New York Times critic described a film as, “proof that even as old a theme as that of Enoch Arden can be used as the foundation for an entertaining film”), in countries around the world (the United States, Germany, Russia, etc.), across the spectrum of genres (dramas, comedies, musicals, films-noir), under the oversight of some of each era’s most critically and/or commercially successful filmmakers (from D.W. Griffith to Vsevolod Pudovkin to Michael Bay), and through the performances of many of the most celebrated of movie stars of all-time (from Orson Welles to Betty Grable to Tom Hanks).

Take a look (but beware of spoilers!)…

Enoch Arden: Part I” and “Enoch Arden: Part II” (1911)

  • Director D.W. Griffith
  • Stars Wilfred Lucas, Linda Arvidson, Francis J. Grandon
  • Genre drama
  • Summary Lucas, a humble fisherman, marries Arvidson, his sweetheart, and together they have children. In order to provide for his family, Lucas takes work as a sailor. On one voyage, the ship he is aboard is wrecked by a storm. He is presumed dead (by all but his wife, who holds out hope for a long time), but is actually alive and spends an untold number of years alone on a deserted island. Then, a series of events lead to his rescue… he returns home… and finds that his wife, at the urging of his now-grown children, has finally moved on and married her former suitor, Grandon. Complications ensue.
  • Oscar nods pre-Oscars

The Man Without a Name” (1932)

  • Director Gustav Ucicky
  • Stars Werner Krauss, Helen Thimig, Mathias Wieman
  • Genre drama
  • Summary Krauss, a German lieutenant married to Thimig, is sent to Russian front, where he is presumed dead following a gas attack in 1916, and officially declared dead five years later. However, Krauss actually survived the attack, but was afflicted with a severe case of amnesia for years, during which time he has remained in Russia. Meanwhile, Wieman, Krauss’s best friend, comforts Thimig… they become close and marry… and then Krauss comes out of his fog and returns to Germany. Complications ensue.
  • Oscar nods none

The Dark Angel” (1935)

  • Director Sidney Franklin
  • Stars Fredric March, Merle Oberon, Herbert Marshall
  • Genre drama
  • Summary As children, March, Marshall, and Oberon were the best of friends. As adults, March and Marshall both find themselves deeply in love with her and competing for her hand in marriage. She eventually decides on March — much to the consternation of Marshall — but before they can wed World War I breaks out and both men go off to battle. Marshall, the superior officer, sends March off on a dangerous mission from which he fails to return, and he is therefore presumed dead. Marshall returns home and comforts Oberon… after a period of mourning, they decide to marry… but just before the wedding, they learn that March is, in fact, alive, but blinded and living in seclusion, wishing not to be a burden on his wife. Complications ensue.
  • Oscar nods best actress (Oberon), best art direction WON, best sound recording

My Favorite Wife” (1940)

  • Director Garson Kanin
  • Stars Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Gail Patrick
  • Genre comedy
  • Summary Dunne and Grant were married with two children when a ship she was aboard was wrecked, leading everyone to presume her dead. Seven years later, she is declared legally dead and Grant marries Patrick, only to discover shortly thereafter that Dunne is actually alive, having survived for all that time on a deserted island. Caught between the two women, he is leaning towards Dunne, only to discover that she had company for those seven years: Randolph Scott. Complications ensue.
  • Oscar nods best original screenplay, best art direction, best original score

Too Many Husbands” (1940)

  • Director Wesley Ruggles
  • Stars Fred MacMurray, Jean Arthur, Melvyn Douglas
  • Genre comedy
  • Summary Businessman MacMurray and Arthur were married when the ship he was aboard was wrecked. He is presumed dead, but is actually alive and spends over a year on a deserted island. Meanwhile, MacMurray’s best friend and business partner Douglas comforts Arthur… after a year, they marry… and then MacMurray is found alive and brought home. Complications ensue.
  • Oscar nods best sound recording

Tomorrow Is Forever” (1946)

  • Director Irving Pichel
  • Stars Orson Welles, Claudette Colbert, George Brent
  • Genre film-noir
  • Summary Soldier Welles and Colbert were deeply-in-love newlyweds with a child on the way when he was sent off to fight in World War I. After being severely injured in action, he decides that he would rather be presumed dead and start a new life somewhere else than return to his wife in such a condition, and so he opts not to contact her again and is therefore presumed dead. Meanwhile, Colbert’s employer Brent comforts her… before long, they marry… and, over the ensuing years, she gives birth to two boys (the first of them Welles’s). 20 years after his disappearance, Welles returns to town — virtually unrecognizable, and using a new name — seeking employment from Brent, unaware that his wife is now Brent’s. Complications ensue.
  • Oscar nods none

Desire Me” (1947)

  • Director Mervyn LeRoy
  • Stars Robert Mitchum, Greer Garson, Richard Hart
  • Genre drama
  • Summary Mitchum, a French soldier, is sent to fight in World War II, leaving behind wife Garson. Garson receives a report that her husband was killed by the Germans, but still holds out hope that a mistake has been made — until she receives a visit from Hart, who tells her that he was in a prisoner-of-war camp with Mitchum and personally saw him killed after an attempted escape five years earlier. (Hart genuinely believes Mitchum is dead, having set him up to be shot.) Garson finally begins to accept the situation… Hart comforts her… they become close and marry… and then Mitchum comes home. Complications ensue.
  • Oscar nods none

Cage of Gold” (1950)

  • Director Basil Dearden
  • Stars David Farrar, Jean Simmons, James Donald
  • Genre drama
  • Summary Artist Simmons marries childhood crush Farrar (who is less than meets the eyes), and together they have a child. Then, a plane on which Farrar is supposedly traveling crashes and he is reported dead. Donald, a young doctor, comforts Simmons… they become close and marry… and then Donald comes home. Complications ensue.
  • Oscar nods none

The Return of Vasili Bortnikov” (1953)

  • Director Vsevolod Pudovkin
  • Stars Sergei Lukyanov, Natalya Medvedeva, Nikolai Timofeyev
  • Genre drama
  • Summary Lukyanov, a Russian soldier, was sent to fight in World War II, leaving behind wife Medvedeva. He went missing and was presumed dead, but had actually been hospitalized with amnesia for five years. Meanwhile, Timofeyev comforts Medvedeva… they become close and marry… and then Lukyanov comes out of his fog and returns home. Complications ensue.
  • Oscar nods none

Three for the Show” (1955)

  • Director H.C. Potter
  • Stars Jack Lemmon, Betty Grable, Gower Champion
  • Genre musical
  • Summary Lemmon, a Broadway writer-turned-American soldier, is sent to fight in World War II, leaving behind wife Grable, a popular Broadway star. Lemmon goes missing-in-action and is presumed dead. Meanwhile, Lemmon’s best friend and writing partner Champion comforts Grable… eventually, they marry… and then Lemmon returns home. Complications ensue.
  • Oscar nods none

Move Over, Darling” (1963)

  • Director Michael Gordon
  • Stars Doris Day, James Garner, Polly Bergen
  • Genre comedy
  • Summary Day and Garner were married with two children when a plane she was aboard disappeared over the Pacific Ocean, leading everyone to presume her dead. Five years later, she is declared legally dead and Garner marries Bergen, only to discover shortly thereafter that Day is actually alive, having survived for all that time on a deserted island. Caught between the two women, he is leaning towards Day, only to discover that she had company for those seven years: Chuck Connors. Complications ensue.
  • Oscar nods none

The Forgotten Man” (1971-TV)

  • Director Walter Grauman
  • Stars Dennis Weaver, Anne Francis, Andrew Duggan
  • Genre drama
  • Summary Weaver, an American soldier, is sent to fight in the Vietnam War, leaving behind wife Francis and a child. He is captured by the Vietcong and presumed dead, but is actually alive and spends a lengthy period as a prisoner-of-war. Eventually, he is released… he returns home… and finds that Francis has married Duggan; his child has been adopted by another family; and his business has been sold off. Complications ensue.
  • Oscar nods ineligible

Cast Away” (2000)

  • Director Robert Zemeckis
  • Stars Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Chris Noth
  • Genre drama
  • Summary Hanks, an efficiency expert for FedEx, and Hunt, his girlfriend, become engaged. Their Christmas together is interrupted when Hanks is summoned overseas for work. Mid-flight, the plane he is aboard crashes into the Pacific Ocean. He is presumed dead, but is actually alive and spends four years alone on a deserted island. Then, a series of events lead to his rescue… he returns home… and finds that Hunt has married someone else and had that man’s child. Complications ensue.
  • Oscar nods best actor (Hanks), best sound mixing

Pearl Harbor” (2001)

  • Director Michael Bay
  • Stars Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale, Josh Hartnett
  • Genre drama
  • Summary Childhood best friends Affleck and Hartnett are military flyers. Affleck and Beckinsale are lovers. Affleck accepts a special assignment to go to Europe to help the British fight the Germans. He is shot down and reported dead. Hartnett and Beckinsale are devastated, comfort each other, and have a sexual encounter… Beckinsale discovers she’s pregnant… and then Affleck turns out to be alive and comes home. Complications ensue. Then Pearl Harbor is attacked… both men sent off to participate in the retaliatory Doolittle Raid… and only one comes home alive.
  • Oscar nods best original song, best sound editing WON, best sound mixing, best visual effects

Brothers” (2009)

  • Director Jim Sheridan
  • Stars Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal
  • Genre Drama
  • Summary Maguire is an American soldier who is deployed to Afghanistan, leaving behind wife Portman, two young kids, and neer-do-well brother Gyllenhaal. Following a helicopter crash, he is presumed dead, but is actually alive and spends a significant period as a prisoner of terrorists. Meanwhile, Gyllenhaal comforts Portman and the kids… they become close… and then Maguire is found alive and brought home. Complications ensue.
  • Oscar nods TBD

Photo: Francis J. Grandon and Linda Arvidson, with Wilfred Lucas looking on, in D.W. Griffith’s “Enoch Arden: Part II” (1911). Credit: General Film Company.

2 Responses

  1. Joe Leydon 25. Dec, 2009 10:16 pm #

    “Colonel Chabert” (1994), with Gerard Depardieu as the soldier thought killed during the Napoleonic War, Fanny Ardant as the wife who remarried after he was declared dead — and Andre Dussollier as the new husband, a count who may not be entirely unhappy about the return of the first husband.

  2. wongie 26. Dec, 2009 9:04 am #

    “Sommersby” (1993) with Richard Gere, Jodie Foster, and Bill Pullman. Jack Sommersby (Gere)returns home to his wife three years after the end of the civil war. Presuming he was dead, his wife Laurel (Foster) already got engaged to Orin (Pullman). Laurel calls the engagement off, gets back together with Sommersby who seems like a very different man now and complications arise.

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