The Toy Wife

The Toy Wife with Luise Rainer, Melvyn Douglas, and Robert Young.  The Brigard family, prominent plantation owners in pre-Civil War French Louisiana, have just returned home after spending many years in Paris.  Sixteen-year-old Gilberte, known as 'Frou Frou' (Luise Rainer), has only the faintest childhood memories of the plantation but is excited at the idea of being near the party town of New Orleans.  Frou Frou is flighty and frivolous and has always been spoiled by her father and older sister Louise.  She meets and marries respected attorney George Sartoris (Melvyn Douglas), who had been Louise's beau.  George loves Frou Frou for her gaiety and innocence, but becomes frustrated at her inability to manage his household (and household slaves) or properly raise their son.  He allows sister-in-law Louise to move in to handle all of the practical matters while Frou Frou is thought of as his "toy wife", pretty and fun but not practical.  Frou Frou realizes that Louise has always loved George and their lives would be better without her, so she runs away to New York with Andre Vallaire (Robert Young), who has been pursuing her romantically.  Her husband George cannot forgive this insult and vows to duel Vallaire if he ever returns, even though Vallaire is a master swordsman and would surely win.

I don't know Luise Rainer but apparently she was hot stuff at the time, having just won back-to-back Best Actress Oscars.  It looks like her film career only really lasted about four years.  This film was jarring (by today's standards) in its depiction of happy slaves and the language used in connection with them.  When Frou Frou meets the household slaves she is introduced to the two Maries ('Yellow' Marie and 'Brown' Marie) and to a young slave without a name who goes by the appellation "Pick", short for pickaninny.

Familiar face:  Frou Frou's father was played by H.B. Warner, Mr. Gower from It's a Wonderful Life

Frou Frou meets the household slaves

George must quell an argument among the "darkies" because Frou Frou does not maintain a well-run house.


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