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Mourning Becomes Electra
Directed byDudley Nichols
Written byDudley Nichols
Based onMourning Becomes Electra
1931 play
by Eugene O'Neill
Produced byDudley Nichols
StarringRosalind Russell
Michael Redgrave
Raymond Massey
Kirk Douglas
CinematographyGeorge Barnes
Edited byRoland Gross
Chandler House
Music byRichard Hageman
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
November 19, 1947 (1947-11-19)
Running time
173 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$435,000[1]

Mourning Becomes Electra is a 1947 American drama film by Dudley Nichols adapted from the 1931 Eugene O'Neill play Mourning Becomes Electra, based in turn on the Oresteia. The film stars Rosalind Russell, Michael Redgrave, Raymond Massey, Katina Paxinou, Leo Genn and Kirk Douglas.

Rosalind Russell was nominated for the Best Actress in a Leading Role and Michael Redgrave was nominated for the Best Actor in a Leading Role. Originally released by RKO Radio Pictures at nearly three hours running time, it was eventually cut to 105 minutes (losing more than an hour) after it performed poorly at the box-office and won no Oscars. Though the complete version appears to be lost, the British cut, running 159 minutes, survives and is available on DVD[2] and has been shown on Turner Classic Movies.

A major Oscar upset occurred in connection with the film. All who saw it had taken it for granted that Rosalind Russell would win for her performance as Lavinia, to the point that Russell actually began to rise from her seat just before the winner's name was called. However, it was Loretta Young, and not Russell, who was named Best Actress, for her performance in The Farmer's Daughter.[2]

The film recorded a loss of $2,310,000, making it one of RKO's biggest financial failures.[1][3]


The Civil War is ending. Seth, an old family servant, awaits the return of various members of the wealthy New England Mannon family—especially the patriarch, Ezra, a general in the Union army. Seth shows neighbors around the house, and the women recall a 20-year-old scandal: Ezra's brother, David Mannon, had to marry the French nurse girl who worked for their father, Abe. Abe banished the couple, destroyed the family home and built a new one “out of pure hate.”

In New York City, Ezra's daughter Lavinia follows her mother, Christine, to the residence of sea captain Adam Brant and is shocked to see them kiss. She remembers sharing a passionate kiss with Brant.

Christine returns home. Lavinia, preoccupied with the memory, refuses to see her. The next day, Peter Niles proposes to Lavinia. She refuses, saying that her father needs her. Niles' sister, Hazel, seeks news of Lavinia's brother Orin.

Seth tell Lavinia that Adam is actually David's son, encouraging her to challenge the man. When she does, Adam pours out the true story of how their grandfather coveted the girl and revenged himself on David. But Adam's greatest hate is for Ezra, who did not reply to his mother’s plea for a loan when she was starving to death. Adam swore revenge.

Lavinia confronts her mother, who declares that she has hated Ezra since their wedding night. The “disgust” she felt poisoned her relationship with Lavinia from the day she was born. Lavinia, who worships her father, blames Christine. Christine knows who Adam is and loves him. She knows Lavinia loves Adam. But Lavinia forces her to give him up by threatening to tell Ezra the truth. She paints an ugly picture of the future if they run away—and the difference in their ages grows more plain.

Ezra has a weak heart, and Christine tells Adam what poison to purchase in Boston. As he walks away, she whispers to herself that he will never be able to leave her now.

Ezra returns home. His harrowing experiences during the war have changed him. He has loved Christine always and begs her to help “smash the wall” between them. Christine tells him she loves him, and Lavinia interrupts their kiss. But in their bedroom, the mutual hate pours out of both of them, and Ezra has a heart attack. Christine gives him medicine. He dies in Lavinia's arms, pointing at his wife and saying “Not medicine”. When Christine faints, Lavinia takes the box of pills.

Orin comes home, his head wound bandaged. He and his mother talk about their special relationship. (He only courted Hazel to make her jealous.) But Christine's obsession with putting Lavinia in the wrong backfires, and Orin believes Lavinia when he sees his mother's reaction to the pillbox.

On board Adam's ship, Orin and Lavinia witness Christine and Adam planning to flee. Orin shoots Adam in the back. “How could you love that vile old woman so?” Lavinia asks the corpse. They make it look like robbery and boast of it to Christine, who commits suicide with Ezra's pistol. Orin is shattered.

Some time later, Orin and Lavinia return home from the islands. Lavinia is the image of her mother, dressed in white and wearing the same elaborate coiffure. Peter is delighted with the change. Orin, bearded as his father was, has been driven mad by guilt. He gives Hazel a document to open if he dies or if Lavinia tries to marry Peter. Panic-stricken, Lavinia promises anything if he takes it back. He does. Peter returns, and Orin takes the opportunity to kill himself.

Lavinia, dressed in mourning, waits for Peter. Hazel accuses her of driving Orin to suicide. She begs her to let Peter read what was in the envelope. Lavinia burns it. Peter arrives. He has quarreled with his family but still wants her. In Lavinia's frenzied embrace she calls him “Adam”. She sends him away to reconcile with his family, confessing falsely to an affair with a native islander. To the sound of Seth closing the shutters on all windows, she withdraws into the house, there to be punished by the “Mannon dead.”


Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Actor Michael Redgrave Nominated [4]
Best Actress Rosalind Russell Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Won [5]
National Board of Review Awards Best Actor Michael Redgrave Won [6]


  1. ^ a b c Jewel, Richard (1994). "RKO Film Grosses, 1929–1951: the C. J. Tevlin ledger". Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. 14 (1): 46. doi:10.1080/01439689400260031.
  2. ^ a b "Mourning Becomes Electra". Retrieved 2022-09-13.
  3. ^ Jewell, Richard B. (March 22, 2016). Slow Fade to Black: The Decline of RKO Radio Pictures. University of California Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-0520289673. Retrieved February 5, 2018.
  4. ^ "The 20th Academy Awards (1948) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved August 18, 2011.
  5. ^ "Mourning Becomes Electra – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  6. ^ "1947 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.