Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Joseph L. Mankiewicz|
|Produced by||Darryl F. Zanuck
|Written by||Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Anya Seton (novel)
|Music by||Alfred Newman|
|Cinematography||Arthur C. Miller|
|Editing by||Dorothy Spencer|
|Distributed by||Twentieth Century-Fox|
|Running time||103 minutes|
Dragonwyck is a 1946 American period drama film made by Twentieth Century-Fox. It was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and produced by Darryl F. Zanuck and Ernst Lubitsch (uncredited) from a screenplay by Mankiewicz, based on the novel Dragonwyck by Anya Seton. The music score was by Alfred Newman and the cinematography by Arthur C. Miller.
The story picks up in the year 1844, on a farm in Greenwich, Connecticut. Farmer's daughter Miranda Wells (Gene Tierney) is brought up by her strait-laced low church parents, Ephraim (Walter Huston) and Abigail (Anne Revere). Miranda, a budding young woman, lives on the farm with her family, but often escapes everyday life on the farm through daydreams of a more romantic location and lifestyle, filled with luxury and flair.
When Miranda’s mother Abigail receives a letter from a distant cousin, Nicholas Van Ryn (Vincent Price), Miranda is thrilled by the news. The autocratic, charming and atheistic Nicholas is the owner of an exclusive estate by the name Dragonwyck Manor, with extensive lands and a luxurious mansion on it. The estate is quite the envy of his fellow Hudson River landholders. In the letter, Nicholas asks if one of Abigail’s daughters could come and serve as governess for his eight year old girl Katrine. Abigail tells Miranda that Nicholas is descended from the original Dutch patroons. Even though Nicholas is very wealthy, Abigail is uncertain of his request, but Miranda's religious father Ephraim is very much opposed to the idea.
Miranda is very keen on going, and shows her father a Bible passage that convinces him to let her go. Before long, Ephraim and Miranda meet Nicholas as he arrives to the farm. Despite Nicholas’ arrogant behavior toward the tenant farmers working the Van Ryn lands, Ephraim approves of him enough to let Miranda go. Nicholas takes a liking and is attracted to Miranda. When they reach Dragonwyck, Nicholas presents the lovely Miranda to his daughter Katrine and his gluttonous wife, Johanna (Vivienne Osborne). Arriving with high hopes, Miranda finds the Van Ryns a bit strange. The parents barely know daughter Katrine; Nicholas faces a revolt of his tenant farmers; the servants hint darkly of curses and visitations.
One afternoon, Miranda and Katrine go and hide in the woods to watch the ”kermess” - an annual ceremony at which Nicholas receives the rents of his tenants. The girls are discovered by Dr. Jeff Turner (Glenn Langan). Jeff is immediately attracted to Miranda, and expresses his interest in seeing her again. He also manages to utter that he is not very fond of the arrogant autocrat Nicholas. He claims that Nicholas is feudal in his way of thinking, not compatible with the doctor’s own democratic principles.
During the kermess, a farmer named Klaas Bleeker (Harry Morgan) claims that he and his family has paid Nicholas so much rent that their land ought to be paid for many times over. Klaas then continues to say he refuses to pay more rent. Nicholas doesn’t take kindly to the farmer’s insubordinance and immediately evicts him from his farm.
When Klaas tries to attack Nicholas, Jeff steps in between them and prevents Klaas from hurting Nicholas and himself in the process. Jeff then continues to defend Klaas' political position. That same evening, Nicholas hosts a ball at his mansion, and some of the high society guests snub Miranda because of her humble farmer background, making her feel inadequate and enraged.
Not long after this, Jeff arrives to Dragonwyck in order to ask for help in defending Klaas, who has been falsely accused of murder. Nicholas is disinterested at first but then promises to help and asks Jeff to examine Johanna, who has caught a head cold. Jeff assures her that the cold will pass, then he joins Miranda for a romantic dinner.
That night Nicholas, brings his favorite oleander plant to Johanna's room to cheer her up, and stays to give her some cake. Later in the night, Johanna dies suddenly, much to Jeff's astonishment, since she was well on her way to getting better. Nicholas meets Miranda downstairs and tells her that he was never happy with his wife Johanna, and she could not bear him a much longed-for son.
Miranda has been attracted to Nicholas since she first met him, and when hearing this confession from Nicholas, she can no longer fight her feelings. She caves in and the couple admit their love for each other, although Miranda returns to Connecticut the next day.
Miranda does her chores at the farm every day, but appears distant and dreamy, and Ephraim is irritated with her. He doesn’t get an explanation for her behavior until two months later, when Nicholas arrives and asks for her hand in marriage. Ephraim and Abigail reluctantly consent, not being very fond of the snob, and a few months later, Nicholas is away on business when Miranda discovers that she is pregnant. Despite their quarrels over Nicholas' lack of religious faith and his fury over Miranda's hiring of a lame maid, Peggy O'Malley (Jessica Tandy), Nicholas is thrilled by the news.
However, Nicholas' joy over the pregnancy is somewhat tempered by a set of new laws, permitting tenant farmers to buy their lands. Despite this threat to his historic rights, he counts on passing Dragonwyck on to the baby, who he is sure will be a son. Nicholas asks Jeff to take care of Miranda when she gives birth. Jeff is pleased to see Miranda, whom he still loves, but after examining her, he tells her that her newborn son has a defective heart. The boy is hardly born before he dies, but Miranda has the baby baptized before he dies.
Nicholas is upset and heartbroken by his son's death. During the next few months he grows more distant and embittered. He starts using illegal substances to dampen his despair, and eventually confesses his addiction to Miranda. The goodhearted Peggy starts fearing for her mistress' life, since Nicholas has become more unpredictable and unstable. Peggy begs Jeff for help, telling him about the oleander plant Nicholas has brought up to Miranda's room.
Jeff panics and rushes to Dragonwyck, accusing Nicholas of poisoning Johanna with oleander and now attempting to do the same to Miranda. Much to Miranda's horror, Nicholas admits his crime against his former wife and attacks Jeff, trying to kill him. Jeff manages to knock down Nicholas during the struggle, which makes it possible for Jeff and Miranda to leave the premises. Nicholas wakes up, staggers over to the kermess grounds, calls for the farmers to bring their tributes, waving a pistol around.
All the farmers come man-out-of-house and gather round Nicholas. Jeff, Miranda, the mayor and sheriff also go there. Nicholas takes aim at Jeff with his pistol and is shot. Nicholas dies in front of the crowd, and the farmers doff their caps. Miranda prepares to return to Greenwich, realizing it is her true home. Jeff sees her off and promises to visit her the following week.
- Gene Tierney as Miranda Wells
- Vincent Price as Nicholas van Ryn
- Walter Huston as Ephraim Wells
- Glenn Langan as Dr. Turner
- Anne Revere as Abigail Wells
- Spring Byington as Magda
- Harry Morgan as Bleecker
- Jessica Tandy as Peggy
- Vivienne Osborne as Johanna Van Ryn
- Gregory Peck was the first choice for Nicholas Van Ryn. Ernst Lubitsch was to direct, but became ill, pre-production was delayed, and Peck dropped out.
Adaptations to Other Media
Dragonwyck was adapted as an hour-long radio play on the October 7, 1946 broadcast of Lux Radio Theater, starring Vincent Price and Gene Tierney. It was also dramatized as a half-hour radio play on the January 20, 1947 broadcast of The Screen Guild Theater, starring Vincent Price and Teresa Wright.
- Variety film review; February 20, 1946, page 8.
- Harrison's Reports film review; February 23, 1946, page 31.
- Dragonwyck on Lux Radio Theater: October 7, 1946
- Dragonwyck on Screen Guild Theater: January 20, 1947