Another guest post by Jaynie Van Roe of Here’s Looking Like You, Kid.
The second film I watched as part of TCM’s celebration of actress Luise Rainer‘s 100th birthday was The Toy Wife aka Frou Frou (1938).
In the film, Rainer plays Gilberte “Frou Frou” Brigard, who gets the name Frou Frou from the sound of her swishing dresses. And that certainly does imply more than a love of fashion, but a frivolity as well.
Many compare this film to Gone With The Wind, Camille, and Jezebel for more than its location and time period; like Frank Miller at TCM, folks refer to Frou Frou as a “tempestuous Southern belle.” But I disagree. For while she’s as beautiful and charming as those other women, fundamentally Frou Frou is not the hardened and man-ipulative woman of pride seen in those other films.
If she seems spoiled, it’s a result of those who have been so charmed by her that they’ve pampered and protected her into a perpetual state of childhood. Example: When the matronly Madame Vallaire complains of a toothache and claims that the worst thing about it is that treatment requires a visit to the city of New Orleans, Frou Frou, who desperately wants to see the glamorous city, fakes a toothache herself. It’s the obvious ploy of a child who has just seconds before begged to go to the city, but the next thing you know, Frou Frou, her sister, and Madame Vallaire are all in New Orleans.
Yes, Frou Frou is spoiled. But even so, she lacks a shewish quality — or even an iron sense of will bend others to. Her strengths lay in an innocence and a resiliency born of continual enchantment and enthusiasm.
In fact, Frou Frou’s childlike sense of wonder rather leaves her sans the mission and the guile (if not the means of feminine charms) to be the iron fist in the velvet glove genre of southern belle heroines.
Frou Frou wants a husband — but like many a young woman, she is more in love with love, infatuated with the idea of a husband rather than setting her sights on any one in particular… And in fact, it is her lovelorn sister who inserts Frou Frou into her own romance, creating not only a love triangle but breaking Frou Frou’s own burgeoning romance, and setting up the tragedies which ensue.
Luise Rainer’s portrayal of Frou Frou is as charming as can be. Not only is she a beauty (those cheekbones are to die for!), but she manages to encapsulate both an enthusiasm as frothy, delicate, and gay as those swishing skirts — as well as an appreciation and delight for what she has (which, as any parent will tell you, is rarely a virtue of children). When Frou Frou says, “I want to look at this room, it’s such a pretty room,” there’s a breathless wistfulness usually reserved for moments of longing… Yet this is about what she already has. And the scenes with her film screen son, Georgie, are so beautiful to watch.
In the end, film critics and movie-goers alike didn’t like this film. Frankly, they just didn’t get it. When they say Rainer is “too feminine,” it’s clear they are as ignorant to the delights of Frou Frou as they are the storyline and the plight of The Toy Wife.
But I get Frou Frou and The Toy Wife.
It’s a film like this which drives a person to collecting. I simply must collect all things Toy Wife!
I must have movie stills, magazine articles (like the one shown above, from Picture Show magazine, a London weekly, dated October 15th 1938), and (dare to dream!) something from that film that Luise Rainer as Frou Frou touched…
And please, TCM, I beg of you to get this released on DVD!
I won’t be collecting for me, for commercial reasons — I’ll be collecting for Frou Frou. She needs to know that someone, even all these years later, loved her as she was.
I know collecting yet another film means I risk collecting all things Luise Rainer, but I simply cannot, will not, abandon Frou Frou. So it’s a risk this collector is very willing to take.
Image credits, in order they appear in this post:
Color film poster for Frou Frou (aka The Toy Wife), via Benito International.
The Toy Wife film still featuring Melvyn Douglas, Luise Rainer, and Robert Young, from Movies & Things.
Reprint photo of Robert Young & Luise Rainer in The Toy Wife, from Hemetsphere-Auction-Services.
Two scans from feature article inside Picture Show magazine, October 15, 1938, Frou Frou and Georgie, and MGM Frou Frou article page), via LuiseRainer.Net
Color photo of Robert Young and Luise Rainer from ThePhotoArchive.