“I didn’t know then — he hates everybody, mostly himself.”
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.
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
- Charles Boyer as Paul Dumond
- Fine cinematography and direction
No, though it’s certainly recommended.