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Back Street (1941 film)

Back Street
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Produced by Bruce Manning
Frank Shaw
(associate producer)
Written by Bruce Manning
Felix Jackson
Fannie Hurst (novel)
Starring Charles Boyer
Margaret Sullavan
Music by Frank Skinner
Cinematography William H. Daniels
Edited by Ted J. Kent
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
February 7, 1941 (1941-02-07)
Running time
89 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Back Street is a 1941 drama film made by Universal Pictures, directed by Robert Stevenson. The film stars Charles Boyer and Margaret Sullavan. It is a remake of the 1932 film of the same name, also from Universal. The film follows the 1931 Fannie Hurst novel and the 1932 film version very closely, in some cases reproducing the earlier film scene-for-scene. It is a sympathetic tale of an adulterous woman and the man she loved.

The 1941 version was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music (Score of a Dramatic Picture) (Frank Skinner).

Margaret Sullavan so much wanted Charles Boyer to play her leading man that she gave up her top billing in order to persuade him to play this unsympathetic role.

Plot summary

The film is set in the early 1900s. It tells the story of a pretty and independent young woman, Rae Smith, who lives in Cincinnati. She has many suitors, none of whom she takes seriously. One day she meets an extremely charming and handsome banker named Walter Louis Saxel, and they fall immediately into a strong attraction, which for her is real love. After a few days of closeness she is shocked when he tells her he is already engaged to someone else. Nonetheless the two of them very nearly marry one another on an impulse, but they are prevented from doing so by arbitrary external forces.

After five years, they meet once again, by chance, in New York City. The banker is now married with two children (Richard and Elizabeth) and is extremely successful in his career, but Rae and he still share the same strong attraction. Rae loves him so much that she gives up her career in dress design and becomes his kept mistress, seeing him only when it is convenient for him. Walter keeps up the appearance of a "happy marriage" and never considers divorcing his wife, whose father is his boss at the banking company.

Rae's loyalty to Walter collapses only once, when he fails to contact her after he has been on an extended trip to Europe with his wife. Rae goes back to Ohio and agrees to marry Curt, an attractive and good-hearted man who proposed to her many times in their youth. However, Walter travels to Ohio to find her, and is able to persuade her to return with him.

Once Walter's children reach adulthood they understand who Rae is, and they despise her. People in Walter's social circle also point condemning fingers at Rae, who suffers all this with patience and fortitude.

In old age, dying of a stroke in his grand home, Walter's last faltering word is to Rae, on the phone. She dies not long afterwards in her apartment.


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