DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS (director/writer: Richard Brooks; screenwriters: Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein/based on the short story "Babylon Revisited" by F. Scott Fitzgerald; cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg; editor: John Dunning; music:  Conrad Salinger; cast: Elizabeth Taylor (Helen Ellswirth), Van Johnson (Charles Wills), Walter Pidgeon (James Ellswirth), Donna Reed (Marion Ellswirth), Eva Gabor (Lorraine Quarl ),  Kurt Kasznar (Maurice),  George Dolenz (Claude Matine), Odette (Singer), Roger Moore (Paul); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack Cummings; MGM; 1954)

"Somewhat engrossing but too much a dull and heavy-handed tragic melodrama."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Somewhat engrossing but too much a dull and heavy-handed tragic melodrama. It's directed with urgency by Richard Brooks ("In Cold Blood"/"Bite the Bullet"/"Looking for Mr. Goodbar"). It's based on the short story "Babylon Revisited" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Writer twins Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein turn in a syrupy and cliche-ridden script that's, nevertheless, faithful to the book's tone. The lavish MGM production made Paris shine and the leads all gave fine sensitive performances.

It's set, just after WWII, in the 1920s, at a time the "lost generation" hung out in Paris. The aspiring writer, the ex-GI, Charles Wills (Van Johnson), hangs out in Paris and falls in love with the wealthy American Helen Ellswirth (Elizabeth Taylor). The heavy drinker shows little ability in writing, works as a reporter and tries to write a masterpiece novel. When he fails, he becomes depressed. When he's out cold in a drunken stupor and Helen gets accidentally locked out of their place during a rainstorm, she catches pneumonia and later dies.

Helen's sister Marion (Donna Reed), who always disapproved of Charles, raises their child.

Meanwhile Charles returns to the States and succeeds as a novelist.

The film begins with an older and reformed alcoholic, Van Johnson, returning to Paris and reminiscing about his romance in the City of Light with Liz. He then reunites with his child and makes peace Donna.

REVIEWED ON 5/24/2015       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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time out-Despite a very corny script from Julius and Philip Epstein which borrows clichés from Casablanca and countless 'American in Paris' yarns, this remains an enjoyable (if heavy-handed) melodrama. Van Johnson wants to be the next Hemingway, but while he's a prodigious drinker, he doesn't show much ability as a writer. Taylor, looking unbelievably glamorous, is his long-suffering wife. Pidgeon steals the show as her father, a penniless chancer who still manages to live the good life. (Began life as a Scott Fitzgerald story.

Charles returns to Paris to reminisce about the life he led in Paris after it was liberated. He worked on "Stars and Stripes" when he met Marion and Helen. He would marry and be happy staying in Paris after his discharge and working for a news organization. He would try to write his great novel and that would come between Charlie, his wife and his daughter.

F. SCOTT FITZGERALD'S poignant story of a father's lonely love for his little girl, told in "Babylon Revisited," has "inspired" Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's big color film, "The Last Time I Saw Paris," which opened last night at the Capitol.

"Inspired" is a polite way to put it. For what has actually occurred is that Mr. Fitzgerald's cryptic story of a man's return to the scene of his wantonness—to Paris, that is—in the tense hope of recovering his child by his late wife has excited the picture-makers to an orgy of turning up the past and constructing a whole lurid flashback on the loving and lushing of the man and his wife before she died.

Where Fitzgerald did it in a few words—in a few subtle phrases that evoked a reckless era of golden dissipation toward the end of the Twenties' boom—Richard Brooks, who directed this picture after polishing up an Epstein-brothers' script, has done it in a nigh two-hour assembly of bistro balderdash and lush, romantic scenes.

First, he has changed the time of it — from the predepression days to the years just after the last war, when Paris was again full of American sports. Next, he has changed the hero's business. Now he is an ink-smeared journalist who graduates from Stars and Stripes to a news agency and then to a hopeless try at authorship. And finally he has made the wife a daughter of an American expatriate, and has arranged for the couple to get wealthy by a lucky strike in Texas oil.

With this rearrangement of Fitzgerald's background, Mr. Brooks and Jack Cummings, who produced, have proceeded to fill up a picture with a great florid rush of warm romance. With Van Johnson and Elizabeth Taylor playing the Americans in Paris this time, they have got the two meeting and kissing, very gaily and juicily, on V-Day, then going on to having dates and getting married and having a child and struggling gallantly to live.

Money is the evil that defeats them. As soon as they strike it rich, they begin to behave like idiots and get themselves hopelessly involved. (Why they could not have shared the money with the sister and the brother-in-law, not to mention with Walter Pidgeon, as the expatriate father who gave them the oil stock, is not explained.) Finally, after a tedious marital mix-up he with another woman and she with another man—the husband locks the wife out in a snowstorm and she dies of pneumonia, after a very dainty and articulate death-bed scene.

This is all told in flashback. The rest is loosely Mr. Fitzgerald's tale—how the husband, now sober and repentant, returns to Paris to get his child, how his sister-in-law resists him and how, in the end—unlike Mr. Fitzgerald's lady—she gives in.

What is to be said of such a picture? The story is trite. The motivations are thin. The writing is glossy and pedestrian. The acting is pretty much forced. Mr. Johnson as the husband is too bumptious when happy and too dreary when drunk; Miss Taylor as the wife is delectable, but she is also occasionally quite dull. Mr. Pidgeon is elaborately devilish, Sandra Descher as the child is over-cute, Donna Reed as the bitter sister is vapid and several others are in the same vein.

But the soft soap is smeared so smoothly and that sweet old Jerome Kern tune, from which the title is taken, is played so insistently that it may turn the public's heart to toothpaste. This is something which we wouldn't know.


THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS, screen play by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein and Richard Brooks, based on the short story "Babylon Revisited" by F. Scott Fitzgerald; directed by Mr. Brooks; produced by Jack Cummings for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. At the Capitol.
Helen Ellswirth . . . . . Elizabeth Taylor
Charles Wills . . . . . Van Johnson
James Ellswirth . . . . . Walter Pidgeon
Marion Ellswirth . . . . . Donna Reed
Lorraine Quarl . . . . . Eva Gabor
Maurice . . . . . Kurt Kasznar
Claude Matine . . . . . George Dolenz
Paul . . . . . Roger Moore
Vicki . . . . . Sandra Descher
Mama . . . . . Cella Lovsky
Barney . . . . . Peter Leeds
Campbell . . . . . John Doucette
Singer . . . . . Odette

Vicki . . . . . Sandra Descher
Mama . . . . . Cella Lovsky
Barney . . . . . Peter Leeds
Campbell . . . . . John Doucette
Singer . . . . . Odette tv guide-

F. Scott Fitzgerald's tragic love story was brought to the screen with surprising vitality under Brooks' expert hand. He drew fine performances from Taylor, Johnson, and others in a sumptuous MGM production that captured the flavor of expatriate life in the City of Light. While Fitzgerald

set his poignant tale in the 1920s, this film begins just after WWII; Johnson is a GI with literary ambitions who goes to Paris and meets the wealthy Taylor. They fall in love and he settles down there, attempting to write his first novel. All goes well for a while until failure to sell his

writing causes Johnson to turn to the bottle. His excessive drinking soon causes the couple to argue and Taylor to be accidentally locked out of their Parisian quarters during a rainstorm. She catches pneumonia and later dies. Their child is raised by Taylor's sister, Reed, who has always

disapproved of Johnson. He returns to the US and becomes a successful novelist. Once back in Paris (which is how the film opens, with the Johnson-Taylor love story shown in flashback), Johnson begs for custody of his little girl. Reed relents at the last moment, and the child is reunited with her

reformed father.

Taylor was never more lovely and turns in a superior performance as the star-crossed lady in love with Johnson. Johnson, who also turns in a good effort, although he's a bit glib in spots, was first teamed with Taylor in 1950 in THE BIG HANGOVER and got top billing. With THE LAST TIME I SAW

PARIS, Taylor received the top slot because she had become one of the big box-office draws for MGM. Producer Lester Cowan had originally purchased the rights from Fitzgerald to this story for $3,000, intending to film it as a Mary Pickford vehicle in the 1920s for Goldwyn. Cowan sold the story to

Paramount for a Gregory Peck-William Wyler production that fell through. But MGM purchased the rights from Paramount specifically for Taylor, assigning the clever Epstein twins to write a sparkling script that kept the flavor, if not the brilliance, of Fitzgerald's story intact. MGM shot two weeks

on location in Paris and on the Riviera, mostly at Cannes, producing the balance of the film on the Culver City lot.

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The Last Time I Saw Paris is an engrossing romantic drama that tells a good story with fine performances and an overall honesty of dramatic purpose.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, Babylon Revisited was updated and revised as the basis for the potent screenplay. Elizabeth Taylor’s work as the heroine shows a thorough grasp of the character, whhich she makes warm and real. Richard Brooks’ direction also gets a sock response from Van Johnson.

Plot is laid in Paris in the reckless, gay period that followed V-E Day of World War II. There, Johnson meets and marries Taylor and starts a struggling existence as a day-time reporter for a news service and wouldbe author at night. Even the faith of his wife cannot balance the brand of failure he assumes after too many rejection slips and when some supposedly worthless Texas oil property suddenly gushes into wealth he becomes a playboy himself.

Threading through the footage is the Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II title song, hauntingly sung by Odette.