At the age of 13 Fredric March was producing his own plays, but on leaving high school he worked in a bank before World War I disrupted his life.
It was while recovering from an appendicitis operation some years later that March suddenly decided to follow his instinct and go on stage. His debut was in David Belasco’s Deburau. after which he took minor parts in many films during the Twenties. He worked his way up to starring in the talkies, and for several years played romantic leads in dramas and comedies after his portrayal of John Barrymore in the stage play The Royal Family won him a Paramount contract.
In 1935 he played the Russian count who sweeps Garbo off her feet in Anna Karenina and went on to give a marvellous performance as the fading screen idol in A Star is Born. From 1937 he chose his roles carefully, and was one of the few American male stars to carry off costume drama with panache. In the latter years of his career he became a character actor of some standing. March died in 1975. Here is our pick for five of his best movies.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932)
Robert Louis Stevenson’s spine-chilling tale of a doctor who becomes tormented by his success in separating man’s good and evil natures was filmed several times. With spooky gas-lit scenes of London and an excellent cast led by March, this is still the most cinematically satisfying version. Academy Award Nominations: 3, including Best Adapted Screenplay.
Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Cast: Fredric March, Holmes Herbert, Miriam Hopkins,
Les Miserables (1935)
This is the first of many versions of Victor Hugo’s famous story about moral thievery and immoral justice. March steals bread, March repents and becomes a respectable public figure, Laughton pursues him with a frightening vengeance. The cinematography by Toland is beautiful, the pacing is perfect, and the details are wonderful. Les Miserables was the second of seven films Frederic March (Jean Valjean) made with his wife Florence Eldridge. The couple also appeared on TV and the stage together during their nearly 50-year marriage. Academy Award Nominations: 4, including Best Picture.
Director: Richard Boleslawski
Cast: Fredric March, Jessie Ralph, John Beal, Cedric Hardwicke, Rochelle Hudson, Charles Laughton,
Anthony Adverse (1936)
The intriguing story of a young man’s globe-trotting adventures during the time of Napoleon and his struggle for personal and financial success. An excellent cast, wonderful music, and great cinematography helped make this a blockbuster of its time. Based on Hervey Allen’s novel. Academy Award Nominations: 7, including Best Picture.
Director: Mervyn Le Roy
Cast: Fredric March, Claude Rains, Steffi Duna, Edmund Gwenn, Louis Hayward, Anita Louise, Gale Sondergaard, Akim Tamiroff, Donald Woods, Olivia de Havilland
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Perhaps the most memorable film about the aftermath of WWII, it unfolds with the homecoming of three veterans to the same small town. The leads all touch emotional truths: Loy seems able to express longing, joy, fear, and surprise, even with her back turned, in a particularly poignant welcome home. The movie never glosses over the reality of altered lives and the inability to communicate the experience of war on the front lines or the home front. A landmark achievement. WWII vet Russell, who lost his hands in the war, is the only person to win two Oscars for the same role, Best Supporting Actor and a special Oscar “for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance.” Among its many awards are a British Academy BAFTA for Best Film, Any Source; Golden Globes for Special Achievements: Harold Russell; Best Motion Picture, Drama.
Director: William Wyler
Cast: Fredric March, Virginia Mayo, Dana Andrews, Roman Bohnen, Hoagy Carmichael, Gladys George, Myrna Loy, Cathy O’Donnell, Harold Russell, Teresa Wright
Death of a Salesman (1951)
March won an Oscar nomination for best actor playing the tragic Willie Loman in this Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Willie Loman spent his entire life reaching for fortune. Now, middle aged and weary, he has little to show for it. Willie, devastated by this realization, begins to experience flashbacks of the past in an attempt to make sense of it all. But the more his mind travels, the more he seems to lose touch with reality. Kevin McCarthy costars as Biff, Willie’s oldest son, who clashes horribly with his father. This heartbreaking tragedy also raked in Oscar nominations for best supporting actor, male and female, best cinematography and best music.
Director: Laslo Benedek
Cast: Fredric March, Kevin McCarthy, Beverly Aadland, David Alpert, Jeanne Bates, Royal Beal, Mildred Dunnock, Cameron Mitchell, Howard Smith, Jesse White