Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Never Films: Jealousy (1929)

This is the first in what I hope will be several posts on lost and, now, forgotten films of the Pre-code era. For more information on lost films and film preservation go to the National Film Preservation Foundation
 Publicly known as Jeanne Eagle’s 'obituary', Jealousy (1929) became one of the most significant insignificant films of the year. It was directed by Frenchman Jean de Limur whose only other talking film credit was also Eagles speaking debut in The Letter (1929). The first film Eagles and de Limur made together proved to be a commercial and critical success. Eagle’s talents as a screen actress as well as a stage actress were cemented as she was also nominated for Academy Award for Best Picture for the controversial film about adultery and murder without punishment. In 1929, Eagles was at the height of her Hollywood success. During that year Paramount announced Eagles would star in another melodrama:

"Jeanne Eagles, star of Paramount's all-talking picture The Letter, has begun 'Jealousy' her second film at the studio in Astoria. The picture will be directed by Jean de Limur - who directed The Letter - and the production will be under the general charge of Monta Bell, production executive of the studio. Alfred Gilks is cameraman."

Nothing much is written about the production which commenced on March 1929 except for the change of the leading man from British actor Anthony Bushell to Fredric March at Eagles insistence. The decision was made after all Bushell's scenes were completed, so extensive reshoots were ordered. Another tragedy plagued the set with co-star, British actress Hilda Moore, dying on May 18 before production was completed. She was just 43. It was believed she caught a streptococcal infection from her 5-year-old son and died after being ill for six days. An autopsy gave the official cause of death as blood poisoning. The final cut was completed with a length of just 66 minutes.

Before the film’s release date, trade and fan magazines wrote glowing accounts of the performances of the actors as well as the behind-the-scenes crew while others called it a disappointment compared to The Letter:
"Jealousy said to be a greater production than The Letter with Jeanne Eagles in the starring role, will be featured at the Fox-U O Theatre in the near future according to the announcement of the management. In this all-talking picture is the brief drama of a woman who loved and lost through jealousy. It portrays how the lives of three persons were changed by one spoken word. The screen version of the stage play has been elaborated in settings and augmented in cast. Characters originally only referred to by two players now appear in the persons of Halliwell Hobbes, former lover of the woman; Blanch Le Chair, his mistress; and Henry Daniell, her lover. Miss Eagles' leading man is Fredric March. "
"After The Letter any appearance of Jeanne Eagles is important for she is always arresting, intelligent, provocative, individual. She is all these in Jealousy, but the picture doesn't coalesce into a strong attraction, and certainly not one strong enough for Miss Eagles. One of the reasons lies in the fact that the play was written for two characters only - Yvonne, the mistress of a rich old man, and Pierre, the poor young artist whom she marries…The result is a somewhat rambling narrative lacking distinction or marked sympathy for any of the characters. But it is worth seeing for the sake of Miss Eagles who makes Yvonne a fascinating figure far from the conventional heroine with a "past"."

After the film premiered, Eagles underwent eye surgery in New York City as well as treatment for breathing issues and neuritis. Her health had never fully recovered after she began using heroin and abusing alcohol in the mid-1920s. On October 3, she suffered a collapse when visiting her doctor. She began convulsing and died. Her death was officially attributed as to an overdose of sedative 'chloral hydrate'; however, autopsy and toxicology reports also found Eagles had alcohol and heroin in her organs at the time of her death. She was buried in Calvary Cemetery, Kansas City on October 7.

Advertising and reviews of the film altered after her death. In one article it describes the marquees as reading,
"Outside - bright lights, life and movement. Inside - last respects to a great actress. It is more than merely a picture you watch at the Enright this week. It is a swan song of a woman, dead now for months, who climbed from tent shows to Broadway heights to the vivid, living climax of a career that has embraced everything from poverty to fame and fortune" 
Another review wrote:
"Jealousy is Jeanne Eagles obituary. It is a worthwhile epitaph for a worthwhile career."

It is this 'swan song' that will probably never be enjoyed by modern audiences. Although reviews weren't as favourable as the more popular and successful The Letter, Jealousy was still a part of Pre-code history as well as being the last film for both Jeanne Eagles and Hilda Moore.


  1. Thank you so much for this entry, which is the most information that one can find concerning this lost production. I am very much obsessed with the transition from silents to talkies, and love Miss Eagels' performance in The Letter. Paramount's early talkies have a nice survival rate: of their almost fifty 1928-29 all-talking films, only two are lost, Jealousy and The Doctor's Secret. Of course, why does it have to be one of Jeanne Eagels' films that is one of those two, and her last film, at that?

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