Adapted from the 1931 Fannie Hurst novel and the 1932 film version — which it follows nearly scene-for-scene — this sympathetic tale of an adulterous couple was pretty unique for 1941, as you wouldn’t think this type of behavior would play well then. It was also remade in 1961 with Susan Hayward and John Gavin in the lead roles.
This take on the story — Hurst also wrote Imitation of Life — stars Margaret Sullavan as Ray Smith, who has her pick of many men, but the one she wants, Walter Louis Saxel (Charles Boyer) gets away by the whim of fate. Years later, they reconnect and she becomes his kept woman, literally at his beck and call while he leads a family life and has her for his pleasure. They’re so connected that she dies moments after listening to him expire on the telephone.
As sad as this ending is, both Sullivan and Boyer would die from overdoses. On a happier note, she wanted Boyer to be in this movie so much that she gave up her normal top billing.
It’s pretty controversial material for Robert Stevenson, who would go on to direct Mary Poppins, That Darn Cat and Old Yeller. Alfred Hitchcock was the original choice of director, so I can only imagine how he would have made this soap opera of a film.
The Kino Lorber blu ray of Back Street has a new 2K master, commentary by film historian Lee Gambin and costume Historian Elissa Rose, and a newly mastered theatrical trailer.