Though best remembered as Tyrone Power’s first wife, Annabella (1907-1996) was a major star in France before she came to Hollywood in 1938 to play opposite her future husband and Loretta Young in 20th Century Fox’s Suez.
Those unacquainted with Annabella’s work will be able to rectify that matter this evening, as Turner Classic Movies will be showing four of her vehicles beginning at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET: Wings of the Morning (1938), The Baroness and the Butler (1938), Le Million (1931), and Bridal Suite (1939).
I haven’t watched any of the four, but two of those are notable: Wings of the Morning and Le Million.
Wings of the Morning is supposed to be mere fluff – but great-looking fluff. Shot by cinematographers Ray Rennahan (who’d later work on Gone with the Wind) and Jack Cardiff (The Red Shoes, The African Queen), Wings of the Morning was the first three-strip Technicolor European production. In addition to Annabella, the British-made film boasts an international cast that includes Henry Fonda and Leslie Banks (of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much).
The romantic comedy musical Le Million, in which two male rivals hunt for a jacket concealing a winning lottery ticket, is notable as one of René Clair’s best-regarded efforts and for its unusual – for the time – use of songs to advance the film’s plotline. Annabella is featured opposite René Lefèvre and Jean-Louis Allibert.
The Baroness and the Butler sounds like a partial replay of My Man Godfrey, with William Powell reprising his butler role in the 1936 film directed by Gregory La Cava and Annabella playing a Central European version of the Carole Lombard character. But there’s actually more: the butler gets elected to the Hungarian Parliament, where he’ll fight his boss’ government.
Bridal Suite, about the unlikely romance between a playboy (Robert Young) and an European hotel manager (Annabella), sounds like one of the countless programmers studios churned out each year from the teens all the way to the 1950s. The film’s tagline, as per the TCM website, read: “You can depend on Annabella … getting her fella!"
Well, Annabella may have gotten her fella but she didn’t have much of a career in Hollywood. Her European films – Le Million, La bataille, Hôtel du Nord, La bandera – remain her most respected efforts.
Schedule (ET) from the TCM website:
Wings of the Morning (1937) Cast: Annabella, Henry Fonda, Leslie Banks. Director: Harold D. Schuster. Color. 87 mins
10:00 PM Baroness And The Butler, The (1938) Cast: William Powell, Annabella, Helen Westley. Director: Walter Lang. Black and white. 79 mins
11:30 PM Le Million (1931) Cast: Annabella, René Lefèvre, Jean-Louis Allibert. Director: Rene Clair. Black and white. 81 mins
1:00 AM Bridal Suite (1939) Cast: Robert Young, Annabella, Billie Burke. Director: William Thiele. Black and white. 70 mins
Annabella didn’t have much of a career in the U.S. because Zanuck had her blacklisted. He did not want her to marry Tyrone Power, so he offered her three films in Europe, which she refused. Zanuck at that point cut her off, and punished Power by putting him in the fluff “Daytime Wife.”
Annabella appeared on Broadway in “Jacoby and the Colonel,” with her husband in “Liliom” in Westport, CT, and she worked for the war effort during World War II. Before the war, she and Power did radio shows together as well - Rage of Manhattan and Blood and Sand. After her divorce from Power in 1949, she returned to France.
According to Roald Dahl, he and Annabella had an affair, though it’s not clear when.