Skip to main content

Film Friday: "The Moon's Our Home" (1936)

To celebrate Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan's birthday, which is tomorrow, this week on "Film Friday" I want to tell you a little bit about the only film they ever did together.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by William A. Seiter, The Moon's Our Home (1936) begins when a nutty Hollywood star named Cherry Chester (Margaret Sullavan) is called home to New York by her stern grandmother, Lucy Van Steedan (Henrietta Crosman), who wants her to marry her dull cousin Horace (Charles Butterworth). Taking the same train is Anthony Amberton (Henry Fonda), a famous adventure novelist who is traveling to New York for a signing of his new book. Although they have never met, Cherry and Anthony are scornful of each other. When he hears that Cherry Chester is on the train, he wonders aloud whether a Cherry Chester is a new kind of soft drink. She, on her part, is reading his latest travel guide: "'Mr. Amberton and his camel,'" she reads. "Oh, I see. He's the one with the hat on." 

During the book signing, Anthony gets nauseous with the smell of Cherry's signature perfume and runs out the department store. He is chased by a mob of adoring fans, but is able to escape by leaping into a horse-drawn carriage, one which Cherry happens to be riding in. Neither recognizes the other and they begin talking flirtatiously without introducing themselves. Anthony then leaves in a hurry, but not before depositing a card in her hand as an invitation to his favorite winter retreat in Moonsocket, New Hampshire. Unbale to resist the temptation to disappear, Cherry runs away from her grandmother and Horace and travels to Moonsocket to meet Anthony. At the hotel, they introduce themselves by their real names, John Smith and Sarah Brown, and in between violent discussions, ski crashes and other such disasters, they fall in love and get married, still unaware of each other's identity. On their wedding night, Cherry uses some of her perfume, making Anthony unbearably ill, and the truth gradually, and inevitably, begins to leak out.

Anthony/John: There's a destiny in this and I've come to save you. You have got to come with me. No, don't speak. I'm going away, far away from cities and people and you got to come with me. You don't have to know my name, I don't have to know your name. All that matters is us, two free people with the world behind them.

In April 1929, Bernie Hanighen invited his childhood friend Henry Fonda to appear in a comic part in a musical show he was organizing at a theatrical club in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Fonda's one scene in the play, entitled Close Up, required him to try to pick a young woman and get slapped for his freshness. The slapper was played by a 20-year-old actress from Norfolk, Virginia named Margaret Sullavan. "We rehearsed that bit for a week or ten days, and every time she slapped me, she rocked me," Fonda later recalled. "Every time she hit, I saw a flash. It seemed to say, 'You better, by God, notice me.' And I did. I fell in love with her too." After Close Up, Sullavan was asked to join the University Players, an intercollegiate summer stock company formed in 1928 by Joshua Logan, to which Fonda also belonged. At this point, the Players had built their own theatre in Falmouth and Fonda and Sullavan starred in the premiere play, Devil and the Cheese. By the time the production finished its run, they were already involved.

In late 1929, Fonda and Sullavan moved to New York to try their luck at Broadway. He was soon given a tiny part in The Game of Love and Death, a play directed by Rouben Mamoulian, featuring Claude Rains and Alice Brady. Sullavan, however, was unable to find work and returned home to Norfolk to make her debut into society. In mid-1930, they were reunited in the Players' production of A Kiss for Cinderella, which Fonda also directed. Early the next year, Sullavan embarked on a tour as an understudy in a play called Strictly Dishonorable. Fonda missed her terribly and was happy to have her back in New York when she was hired for the the lead in the Broadway play A Modern Virgin. Their romance intensified through the early days of winter, until Fonda finally proposed. Sullavan accepted and, on Christmas Day 1931, they were married in the dining room of the Kernal Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland. Sadly, the union was short-lived and marred by endless arguments. They separated in either February or March 1932, with the divorce being finalized sometime in 1933.

Margaret Sullavan and Henry Fonda
By 1936, both Fonda and Sullavan were burgeoning film stars. Making his screen debut reprising his stage role in The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935), Fonda had appeared in such films as I Dream Too Much (1935), which have him a chance to work with a future co-star, Lucille Ball, and The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), the first American picture to be shot in the three-strip Technicolor process in an outdoor setting. As for Sullavan, she made her film debut in Only Yesterday (1933) and then appeared in such features as The Good Fairy (1935), whose director, William Wyler, she later married, and Next Time We Love (1936), co-starring their close friend and fellow Player, James Stewart.

The Moon's Our Home was adapted for the screen by Isabel Dawn and Boyce DeGaw from the novel by Faith Baldwin, originally serialized in Cosmopolitan magazine between September 1935 and January 1936. The married writing team of Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell, whose joint film credits include Suzy (1936) and A Star is Born (1937), were hired to polish the script, contributing several bits of witty dialogue. The story of The Moon's Our Home strangely mirrors Fonda and Sullavan's own tempestuous romance and many lines seem to suggest awareness of their off-screen history.  

 Anthony/John: Haven't I seen somewhere before?
Cherry/Sarah: Possibly — I'm the girl you married once.
Anthony/John: I knew it! I never forget a face.

Seiter, Fonda and Sullavan on the set
The director of The Moon's Our Home was William A. Seiter, a native New Yorker who began his film career in 1915 as a bit player at Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios. He transitioned to director in 1918 and went on to helm such pictures as Roberta (1935), starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; Stowaway (1936), with Shirley Temple; This Is My Affair (1937), with Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck; The Lady Takes a Chance (1943), starring Jean Arthur and John Wayne; and One Touch of Venus (1948), featuring Robert Walker and Ava Gardner.

Working together, Fonda and Sullavan discovered that they still had strong feelings for each other. According the June 1936 issue of Photoplay magazine, Sullavan left Wyler two days after The Moon's Our Home finished filming. When she was taken to the hospital with a broken arm and a nervous collapse, Fonda was the only one allowed to see her. At one point, they even discussed remarriage and went house-hunting in Los Angeles, but never did get together in the end. "She was smart enough to realize we couldn't make it happen again," Fonda later recalled. "But breaking up with her was not the tragedy it had been originally." Later that year, Fonda married socialite Frances Ford Seymour and Sullavan married her agent, Leland Hayward.

While we were on location, the romance sort of bloomed again. When we got back, we talked about marrying again, even looked at property to build a home on. And then, suddenly, it was off. I wouldn't be able to explain what it was about the combination of the two of us that didn't work. I guess it was our temperaments. We must have been ill-fated lovers.
(Henry Fonda)

Margaret Sullavan and Henry Fonda

Produced by Walter Wanger, who had Fonda under contract, and distributed by Paramount Pictures, The Moon's Our Home opened on April 10, 1936. Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times wrote that the film "is considerably more sprightly than the novel itself. It is well, for the tale was not numbered among her best, while the picture, certainly, is about the most likable of the many screen entertainments inspired by Faith, produced in hope and not always received with charity." Nugent praised the principal cast and highlighted several scenes with Fonda and Sullavan, including the marriage ceremony before a dead justice of the peace and the moment of the wedding night when Anthony gets sick with the smell of Cherry's perfume. "In the contemplation of such enjoyable bits," Nugent said, "one can forgive many things — even the boy meets girls, loses girl formula."

Although largely forgotten today, The Moon's Our Home was a commercial success at time of its release, perhaps due to the public's fascination with seeing Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan together again. The film may not as good as other screwball comedies of the 1930s, but it is still a thoroughly enjoyable romp. Despite the fact that their relationship did not end in the best of terms, Fonda and Sullavan have amazing chemistry. Their antics in the snow will make you laugh out loud.

Haywire by Brooke Hayward (2011) | Henry Fonda: A Bio-Bibliography by Kevin Sweeney (1992) | The Art of the Screwball Comedy: Madcap Entertainment from the 1930s to Today by Doris Milberg (2013) | The Man Who Saw a Ghost: The Life and Work of Henry Fonda by Devin McKinney (2012) | Photoplay magazine, issues from May and June 1936 | TCMDb (Notes) | The New York Times review


Popular posts from this blog

Golden Couples: Gary Cooper & Patricia Neal

It was April 1948 when director King Vidor spotted 22-year-old Patricia Neal on the Warner Bros. studio lot. A drama graduate from Northwestern University, she had just arrived in Hollywood following a Tony Award-winning performance in Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest . Impressed by Patricia's looks, Vidor approached the young actress and asked if she would be interested in doing a screen test for the female lead in his newest film, The Fountainhead (1949). Gary Cooper had already signed as the male protagonist, and the studio was then considering Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck to play his love interest.          Neal liked the script and about two months later, she met with the director for sound and photographic tests. Vidor was enthusiastic about Patricia, but her first audition was a complete disaster. Cooper was apparently watching her from off the set and he was so unimpressed by her performance that he commented, « What's that!? » He tried to con

Golden Couples: Henry Fonda & Barbara Stanwyck

In the mid- and late 1930s, screwball comedy was in vogue and practically every actress in Hollywood tried her hand at it. Barbara Stanwyck never considered herself a naturally funny person or a comedienne per se , but after delivering a heart-wrenching performance in King Vidor's Stella Dallas (1937), she decided she needed a « vacation » from emotional dramas. In her search for a role, she stumbled upon a « champagne comedy » called The Mad Miss Manton (1938), originally intended as a Katharine Hepburn vehicle. Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda as Melsa and Peter in The Mad Miss Manton .   Directed by Leigh Jason from a script by Philip G. Epstein, The Mad Miss Manton begins when vivacious Park Avenue socialite Melsa Manton finds a corpse while walking her dogs in the early hours of the morning. She calls the police, but they dismiss the incident — not only because Melsa is a notorious prankster, but also because the body disappears in the meantime. Sarcastic newspaper editor

Films I Saw in 2020

For the past four years, I have shared with you a list of all the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 and 2019 , so I thought I would continue the «tradition» and do it again in 2020. This list includes both classic and «modern» films, which make up a total of 161 titles. About three or four of these were re-watches, but I decided to include them anyway. Let me know how many from these you have seen. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favorites. Sherlock Jr. (1924) | Starring Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire and Joe Keaton The Crowd (1928) | Starring James Murray, Eleanor Boardman and Bert Roach Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) | Starring Henry Fonda, Alice Brady and Marjorie Weaver Brief Encounter (1945) | Starring Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard and Stanley Holloway The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) | Starring Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman The Girl He Left Behind (1956) | Starring Tab Hunter and Natalie Wood Gidget (1959) | Starring Sandra Dee, Cliff Robertson an

Wings of Change: The Story of the First Ever Best Picture Winner

Wings was the first ever film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Since then, it has become one of the most influential war dramas, noted for its technical realism and spectacular air-combat sequences. This is the story of how it came to be made.   A man and his story The concept for Wings originated from a writer trying to sell one of his stories. In September 1924, Byron Morgan approached Jesse L. Lasky, vice-president of Famous Players-Lasky, a component of Paramount Pictures, proposing that the studio do an aviation film. Morgan suggested an «incident and plot» focused on the failure of the American aerial effort in World War I and the effect that the country's «aviation unpreparedness» would have in upcoming conflicts. Lasky liked the idea, and approved the project under the working title «The Menace.»   LEFT: Byron Morgan (1889-1963). RIGHT: Jesse L. Lasky (1880-1958).   During his development of the scenario with William Shepherd, a former war correspondent, Morga

80 Reasons Why I Love Classic Films (Part II)

I started this blog six years ago as a way to share my passion for classic films and Old Hollywood. I used to watch dozens of classic films every month, and every time I discovered a new star I liked I would go and watch their entire filmography. But somewhere along the way, that passion dimmed down. For instance, I watched 73 classic films in 2016, and only 10 in 2020. The other day, I found this film with Douglas Fairbanks Jr. that I had never heard of — the film is Mimi (1935), by the way — and for some reason it made me really excited about Old Hollywood again. It made me really miss the magic of that era and all the wonderful actors and actresses. And it also made me think of all the reasons why I fell in love with classic films in the first place. I came with 80 reasons, which I thought would be fun to share with you. Most of them are just random little scenes or quirky little quotes, but put them together and they spell Old Hollywood to me. Yesterday I posted part one ; here i

Top 10 Favourite Christmas Films

Christmas has always been a source of inspiration to many artists and writers. Over the years, filmmakers have adapted various Christmas stories into both movies and TV specials, which have become staples during the holiday season all around the world. Even though Christmas is my favourite holiday, I haven't watched a lot of Christmas films. Still, I thought it would be fun to rank my top 10 favourites, based on the ones that I have indeed seen. Here they are.  10. Holiday Affair (1949) Directed by Don Hartman, Holiday Affair tells the story of a young widow (Janet Leigh) torn between a boring attorney (Wendell Corey) and a romantic drifter (Robert Mitchum). She's engaged to marry the boring attorney, but her son (Gordon Gebert) likes the romantic drifter better. Who will she choose? Well, we all know who she will choose.   Holiday Affair is not by any means the greatest Christmas film of all time, but it's still a very enjoyable Yule-tide comedy to watch over the holi

The Gotta Dance! Blogathon: Gene Kelly & Judy Garland

In 1940, up-and-coming Broadway star Gene Kelly was offered the lead role in Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's new musical Pal Joey , based on the eponymous novel by John O'Hara about an ambitious and manipulative small-time nightclub performer. Opening at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Christmas Day of that year, the show brought Gene his best reviews up to that date. For instance, John Martin of The New York Times wrote of him: «A tap-dancer who can characterize his routines and turn them into an integral element of an imaginative theatrical whole would seem to be pretty close, indeed, to unique .»   One of Gene's performances in Pal Joey was attended by established Hollywood star Judy Garland , who requested to meet him after the show. Gene agreed and then accompanied Judy and her entourage, which included her mother Ethel and several press agents, to dinner at the newly-opened Copacabana nightclub, at 10 East 60th Street. They sang and danced until 3 a.m., after whi

Films I Saw in July & August

In the past five years, I shared a year-end list of the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 , 2019 and 2020 . For 2021, I decided to do this monthly and share a list of the films I saw during each month of the year. These are the films I saw in July and August, which make up a total of 18 titles. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favourites.   Resistance (2011) | Starring Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wlaschiha and Michael Sheen Siberian Education [Educazione siberiana] (2013) | Starring Arnas Fedaravi čius The Last of Robin Hood (2013) | Starring Kevin Kline and Dakota Fanning The Water Diviner (2014) | Starring Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko and Yılmaz Erdoğan Holding the Man (2015) | Starring Ryan Corr, Craig Stott and Anthony LaPaglia The Last King [Birkebeinerne] (2016) | Starring Jakob Oftebro and Kristofer Hivju The Pass (2016) | Starring Russell Tovey and Arinzé Kene Access All Areas (2017) | Starring Ella Purnell, Edward Bluemel and Georgie Henle

The Sinatra Centennial Blogathon: Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly

  In January 1944, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer happened to see a young crooner by the name of Frank Sinatra perform at a benefit concert for The Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles. According to Nancy Sinatra, Frank's eldest daughter, Mayer was so moved by her father's soulful rendition of « Ol' Man River » that he made the decision right then and there to sign Frank to his studio. Sinatra had been on the MGM payroll once before, singing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the Eleanor Powell vehicle Ship Ahoy (1942), although it is very likely that Mayer never bothered to see that film. Now that Frank was «hot,» however, Metro made arrangements to buy half of his contract from RKO, with the final deal being signed in February of that year. Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in  Anchors Aweigh Being a contract player at the studio that boasted «more stars than there are in the heavens» gave Frank a sudden perspective regarding his own talents as a film performer. The «g

Films I Saw in May & June

In the past five years, I shared a year-end list of the films I saw throughout 2016 , 2017 , 2018 , 2019 and 2020 . For 2021, I decided to do this monthly and share a list of the films I saw during each month of the year. These are the films I saw in May and June, which make up a total of 16 titles. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favourites.   Pelle the Conqueror [Pelle Erobreren] (1987) | Starring Pelle Hvenegaard The Elementary School [ Obecná škola] (1991) | Starring Václav Jakoubek Female Agents [Les Femmes de l'ombre] (2008) | Starring Sophie Marceau Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe [Vor der Morgenröte] (2016) | Starring Josef Hader ❤ Cold War [Zimna wojna] (2018) | Starring Tomasz Kot, Joanna Kulig and Borys Szyc Dreamland (2019) | Starring Finn Cole, Margot Robbie, Travis Fimmel and Garrett Hedlund Mr Jones (2019) | Starring James Norton, Vanessa Kirby and Peter Sarsgaard Official Secrets (2019) | Starring Keira Knightley, Matt Smith an