EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|MIDNIGHT (director: Mitchell Leisen; screenwriters: from the story by Edwin Justus Mayer & Franz Schulz/Charles Brackett/Billy Wilder; cinematographer: Charles B. Lang; editor: Doane Harrison; music: Frederick Hollander; cast: Claudette Colbert (Eve Peabody/"Baroness Czerny"), Don Ameche (Tibor Czerny), John Barrymore (George Flammarion), Francis Lederer (Jacques Picot), Mary Astor (Helen Flammarion), Elaine Barrie (Simone), Hedda Hopper (Stephanie), Monty Woolley (Judge), Eddie Conrad (Prince Potopienko); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Arthur Hornblow, Jr.; Paramount; 1939)|
with a lively repartee and high style production
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Mitchell Leisen directs a snappy Cinderella-inspired screwball comedy involving an identity mix up. The screenwriting dynamic duo of Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder provides a most witty and sarcastic script; it's based on the story by Edwin Justus Mayer & Franz Schulz. The great John Barrymore no longer received top billing, as his career was on a downward turn because of his drinking problems and inability to remember lines; he resorted to using cue cards as it becomes noticeable in the many shots of him looking off in another direction from the camera. Barrymore's former girlfriend Mary Astor co-starred as the bitchy sophisticate (the much gossiped about loose woman, married four times, was actually pregnant during the filming), and his current wife Elaine Barrie was given a small role as society hostess Simone; she was around to be the bad boy's keeper. All in all, this is a delightful comedy that delivers with a lively repartee and high style production values.
It opens with the American chorine Eve Peabody (Claudette Colbert) arriving by train in Paris from Monte Carlo dressed in a gold evening dress (what else!) and possessing no luggage or money. The lady lost all her money gambling and pawned her luggage. She talks Hungarian immigrant taxi driver Tibor Czerny (Don Ameche) to drive her around in the rainy night while she looks for a nightclub job as either a blues singer or in the chorus. Eve sweetens the deal by saying she'll pay him double as soon as she lands a gig.
After ditching the sweet taxi driver, Eve in order to get out of the rain crashes a socialite's classical musical soirée using her pawn ticket and the pseudonym of the Hungarian Baroness Czerny (the cab driver's surname). Once inside, Eve is mistaken for the real Baroness, also in attendance but who is later unceremoniously tossed out, and gets invited to play cards for high stakes with three other bored musical guests. Aristocrat Georges Flammarion (John Barrymore) quickly catches on that she's an impostor but doesn't rat her out because she can help him with the scheme he has in mind. Georges is very much in love with his wife Helen (Mary Astor), who is having an affair with the handsome and wealthy playboy Jacques Picot (Francis Lederer). Noticing how much Jacques is attracted to the impostor, he makes her an offer that he will finance her masquerade as the Baroness if she seduces his wife's gigolo lover.
The plan works until the taxi driver tracks her down in the posh 18th-century country estate of Georges', where he discovers that she's using his name. In the mansion, the out of his element, Tibor tries unsuccessfully to take Eve away from the empty-headed Jacques and also to unmask her deception. But she explains that the Baron suffers from mental problems and at times thinks he's a common working man. She then rebuffs his marriage proposal for Jacques', seeing this as her opportunity to hit the jackpot. In the whacky conclusion the Baroness must go before a French court to get her divorce to marry again, even though she's not married. Monty Woolley as the judge, adds his inimical droll touch of humor to this hilarious outlandish farce.
REVIEWED ON 1/4/2005 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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