Hold Back the Dawn (1941)

“We are like two trains, halted for a moment at the same station, but we are going in different directions. We can’t change our course, any more than we can hold back the dawn.”

Hold Back the Dawn Poster

Synopsis:
A Romanian gigolo (Charles Boyer) living near the U.S./Mexico border hopes to gain entrance to the U.S. by marrying a naive young schoolteacher (Olivia de Havilland) — but will his jealous lover (Paulette Goddard) foil his plans?

Genres:

Review:
Mitchell Leisen directed this far-fetched but touching romance set in the “gritty” (albeit highly sanitized) world of immigration limbo. Much about the screenplay (written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, based on a story by Ketti Frings) defies belief: would Boyer really be so instantly successful with the first woman he tries to woo? Would de Havilland really be so instantly swayed by his charms? (And why in the world was beautiful de Havilland so consistently cast in “plain Jane” roles?) Regardless, Hold Back the Dawn is meant to function purely as Hollywood escapist fare, and to that end it works reasonably well. Despite knowing that de Havilland is being duped, we can’t help enjoying the blossoming of her romance with Boyer, given our conviction that Boyer will surely come to see the folly of his ways. The screenplay is nicely book-ended by Boyer’s character visiting a Hollywood studio and attempting to sell his story to a director (Leisen himself, in cameo); watch for fun cameos as well by Veronica Lake and Richard Webb, shown rehearsing a clip from Leisen’s I Wanted Wings (1941).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Charles Boyer as George (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actors of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
    Hold Back the Dawn Boyer
  • Olivia de Havilland as Emmy (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in Alternate Oscars)
    Hold Back the Dawn De Havilland

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly recommended.

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One Response to “Hold Back the Dawn (1941)”

  1. First viewing. Not a must.

    This is a title I’ve known for years but, until now, the film has eluded me. It’s easy to understand the urge to track it down: it has a good cast, screenwriters and director.

    The sad news is the film is little more than a cheat, essentially. It opens with an intriguing premise, designed to grab the viewer without fail: a man manages a meeting with a very busy Hollywood director (while on-set, no less!) to implore him to tell his story to the world – it is apparently an urgent tale which *must* be told, as its significance will undoubtedly have worldwide appeal on-screen.

    It doesn’t. It’s an ok story, but a little pedestrian and a little forced. As noted, it is “Hollywood escapist fare” for its era. The performances occasionally enliven things somewhat – but nothing really stays with you much, during the viewing or after.

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