It feels like it’s been an eternity since I’ve had the opportunity to post on my blog. In reality this has been the longest and the most unexpected hiatus that I’ve ever had since Musings of a Classic Film Addict’s creation back in 2016, but these are certainly unprecedented times. Not only has the coronavirus taken a toll on everyone’s daily routines, I’ve also been spending time adjusting to living on my own for the first time, working full-time, and dealing with my own personal struggles in addition to those major life changes. Like many of you, I’ve spent the majority of this year rolling with the punches that 2020 has decided to throw, but now that my life has calmed down a bit and my new work schedule will allow me to have the majority of the week off, I feel more ready than ever to get back to writing. Even better, I knew that The 120 “Screwball” Years of Jean Arthur Blogathon hosted by Virginie of The Wonderful World of Cinema, one of my dearest friends in the classic film community, would be the perfect chance for me to warm up my typing fingers once again. Granted, I’m still a little late to the party as this delightful event was meant to honor what would have been Jean Arthur’s birthday on October 17th, but better late than never, right?
I chose to honor Jean Arthur by reviewing History is Made at Night (1937) for one simple reason: it’s the only film of Jean’s that’s available to stream on the Criterion Channel, which I subscribe to but really haven’t gotten enough use out of yet. Interestingly enough, this film is not one of Criterion’s official spines, but it’s been a part of everything Criterion-related for as long as I can remember, and I knew that this was a great opportunity to finally sit down and give it a try. The film centers around the unhappily married Bruce Vail (Colin Clive), a wealthy ship owner, and his wife Irene (Jean Arthur). From the beginning of their marriage Bruce has been insanely delusional, believing that his wife is continuously unfaithful. Even though Bruce’s accusations are the opposite of the truth, his constant suspicions drive Irene away and she flees to Paris to seek a divorce.
Bruce naturally follows her, and determined to keep her for himself, he plans to stage a love scene between his wife and his chauffeur which would delay her divorce proceedings. However, as the chauffeur begins to force his affections on Irene, headwaiter Paul Dumond (Charles Boyer) witnesses her struggle and enters the room pretending to be a jewel thief in an effort to preserve her reputation. He then “kidnaps” Mrs. Vail and takes her to the chic French restaurant where he works, where he wins her heart with his dancing and Lobster a la Cesare prepared by his best friend and famous chef Cesare (Leo Carillo). While Irene and Paul fall head over heels in love, Bruce, who suspects that Paul has secretly been his wife’s lover the whole time, murders his chauffeur in an attempt to frame Paul for the crime and send him to the guillotine and out of his wife’s arms. Will he be successful in his cruel plot, or will Irene and Paul find the happiness they have both been waiting for?
I have to admit that I didn’t give this film much of a chance at first. The beginning didn’t really impress me, but once I became invested in the story and began to see just how devoted to each other Irene and Paul were, I found the film utterly romantic and captivating the rest of the way through. I’ve previously seen Jean Arthur in several movies, including If You Could Only Cook (1935), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), and The More the Merrier (1942), but I feel like Jean and Charles Boyer are two prim and proper stars that somehow, paired together, allow each other to relax onscreen and let their hair down in order to display their more natural selves. In fact, while Jean was marvelous in her role, I’d go as far as to say that this is hands down my new favorite Charles Boyer performance, after having watched many of his works like Algiers (1938), All This and Heaven Too (1940), and Gaslight (1944). He shows a much lighter and more delightful side to his personality in History is Made at Night (1937) which is glaringly absent from his other work that I’ve seen, almost reminiscent of Cary Grant’s lighter fare, and this makes me want to seek out his romantic comedies much more.
Still, that isn’t to say that this film is all sunshine, because I found many of its darker scenes to be even more gripping than the uplifting ones. I adored seeing Colin Clive embrace the demented persona of Bruce Vail, a character which is astonishingly more vile and corrupt than many other roles of the period. In fact, I was amazed that so much romance was able to be shown within Irene and Paul’s extramarital affair, but I believe that the censors undoubtedly let their passionate scenes slide by due to how horrible Bruce is as a person. Even though nearly all of this picture’s scenes are worthy of a mention, I have to say that the lifeboat scene was by far the best, yet also the most difficult to watch. Boyer and Arthur express so much pain on their faces in this scene, and perfectly show how desperately they need each other and how impossible a life apart feels for each of them as they overcame so many obstacles to be together. It absolutely ripped my heart out, and showed me that History is Made at Night (1937) isn’t just a good film, but a great one. If you enjoy Jean Arthur, Charles Boyer, and heartfelt romances that move you and dig deep into your core, I couldn’t recommend this one enough.