History is Made At Night (1937)

“I didn’t know then — he hates everybody, mostly himself.”

History is Made at Night Poster

Synopsis:
A sociopathically controlling millionaire (Colin Clive) refuses to allow his wife (Jean Arthur) a divorce, attempting to blackmail her by putting her in a compromising situation with her chauffeur (Ivan Lebedeff). Ironically, this set-up leads her to meet the love of her life — a chivalrous French headwaiter (Charles Boyer) who intervenes and whisks her away to his restaurant, where he wines and dines her with assistance from his loyal chef-buddy, Cesare (Leo Carrillo). However, Clive’s jealous clutches remain so strong that Arthur is unable to get away, and she and Boyer are temporarily separated — though Boyer will do whatever he can to find her again.

Genres:

Review:
Frank Borzage directed this unabashedly romantic tale of star-crossed lovers determined to reunite. Arthur has never been lovelier (her performance is typically stellar), and Boyer taps into his most appealing romantic-lead strengths as her ardent pursuer. Less impressive — though arguably well-cast — is Colin Clive (in his final role before dying from tuberculosis at just 37 years old) as Arthur’s husband-from-hell. Clive’s “Bruce Vail” is a stereotypically vile baddie; while we certainly believe he’s vindictive enough to stop at nothing to prevent his wife from leaving him, a bit more nuance would have strengthened his characterization. Also distracting is the comic-relief role played by Leo Carrillo as Boyer’s conveniently loyal buddy — an Italian with a Chico Marx accent (working in a top French restaurant!?) who literally drops everything time and again to help out his friend; a running joke about his famous lobster dish and salad feels stale from the get-go. With that said, this remains classic Hollywood soaper material, served up with visual panache by director Frank Borzage (channeling Ernst Lubitsch) and cinematographer David Abel. It possesses a small but solid fan base, who value Boyer and Arthur’s romantic chemistry and Clive’s unrepentant villainy. Despite its flaws, this one’s worth a one-time look if you can catch it.

Note: Reading a bit more about Borzage’s background, I found myself wondering if Carrillo’s accent was an homage of some kind to Borzage’s Italian-speaking stonemason dad? I was also glad to finally be informed that his name is pronounced “bor-ZAY-gee” rather than rhyming with “corsage”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jean Arthur as Irene Vail
    More the Merrier Arthur2
  • Charles Boyer as Paul Dumond
    More the Merrier Boyer
  • Fine cinematography and direction
    More the Merrier Cinematography
    More the Merrier Cinematography2

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

Links:

One Response to “History is Made At Night (1937)”

  1. Not must-see, and in agreement with many of the things stated, esp. that Clive’s performance is too one-note (or maybe he’s just meant to be that kind of a one-note jerk; but, if so, why the heck was someone like Arthur’s character ever *with* him?!).

    I would think that the film’s fan base is mainly due to the ‘purity’ of the Arthur-Boyer romance. We can’t help liking them as a couple.

    Personally, I don’t think much of the rest of the film around them works all that well. I don’t find the script all that strong or the dialogue all that memorable. But Arthur (even more sedate then we’re perhaps accustomed to seeing her) and Boyer (doing what he does best) manage to hold our interest.

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