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Academy Award winners Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche and John Barrymore light up the screen in Midnight - one of the best romantic comedies from the Golden Age of Hollywood. The fun begins when a penniless showgirl (Colbert) impersonates a Hungarian countess and, with the help of an aristocrat (Barrymore), quickly adapts to her new lifestyle. But can she stop herself from falling in love with yet another poor man (Ameche)? Written by Academy Award winners Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, Midnight has been hailed as "just about the best light comedy ever caught by the camera!" (Motion Picture Daily)
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Would-be chorine Eve Peabody (Claudette Colbert) arrives in Paris with little more than the clothes on her back and a Monte Carlo pawn-ticket. Picked up by friendly cabby Tibor Czerny (Don Ameche), Eve finds a kindred spirit but resolves not to pursue a possible relationship with a man she's sure is as poor as the proverbial church-mouse. Instead, Eve wanders into a high society soiree, where she encounters Georges Flammarion (John Barrymore), his wayward wife Helene (Mary Astor) and Jacques Picot (Francis Lederer), the lady-killer who is angling to split them apart.
Suddenly, Georges sees the perfect opportunity to offload Jacques. When Eve successfully passes herself off as the "Baroness Czerny", Georges plays along when he notices Jacques falling for the mysterious new society belle. Penniless Eve suddenly finds herself living in a big way, with a suite at the Ritz, a trunkload of new clothes and a steady flow of pocketmoney from Georges' bank! All she has to do in return is keep Jacques' attention away from Helene. Easier said than done...especially when cabby Tibor finally tracks down elusive Eve during a weekend at the Flammarions' country estate...
MIDNIGHT is yet another magical bauble from 1939, the year which has become synonymous with a slew of movie masterpieces. This film fits in perfectly. Claudette Colbert's performance is sheer perfection (in the realm of screwball heroines she is really without peer, except perhaps Irene Dunne's work in "Theodora Goes Wild" and "The Awful Truth"). MIDNIGHT also provided John Barrymore with what turned out to be one of his last great roles. Looking far older than his 57 years, Barrymore passed away in 1942 at the age of 60. Don Ameche and Francis Lederer, playing Colbert's dueling princes, are wonderful. Mary Astor would again co-star with Ms Colbert in another highly-regarded screwball favourite, "The Palm Beach Story".
Lucky Claudette Colbert to have starred in not one but TWO of the great romantic screwball comedies (the other being the surprise 1934 smash "It Happened One Night" for Columbia). Despite MIDNIGHT being a Paramount release, publicity for MIDNIGHT capatalized on Colbert's earlier hit by billing the film as "It Happened One Night...at Midnight!".
If you've yet to experience the sheer delight of MIDNIGHT, run (don't walk) to grab yourself a copy. Highly-recommended!
- ensemble playing of this standard simply does not exist anymore
- Don Ameche plays with real edge in contrast to the insipid parts which 20th Centrury Fox saddled him with. He is virile and magnetic
- Claudette Colbert combines her tongue in cheek quality with a really hard edge which makes the heroine a fascinating creature
- John Barrymore, in spite of reading from prompt cards, is superb. His constant looks of bemusement and secret delight at the next flight of fantasy of Colbert are at the heart of the cynicism of the script
- the film has that glitter which signifies a Paramount product and the director Mitchell Liesen. The women are dressed magnificently
- Hedda Hopper, the famous gossip columninst, has an amusing part as a society dame
- the film is a great example of what could be achieved with a great script and players in spite of the Hays Code.
The print of the film is excellent but the extras are only a "nothing" introduction by Robert Osborne and the original trailer. The DVD is quite expensive but the film is such a gem, it is still worth it.
Nonetheless, the screenplay is superb, by one of the greatest writers of comedies in the history of cinema, Billy Wilder. Although he had been in Hollywood for a while, this was the first screenplay in which he truly hit his stride, the first in a series of stellar scripts (including NINOTCHKA for Lubitsch, ARISE MY LOVE and HOLD BACK THE DAWN for Leisen, and BALL OF FIRE for Howard Hawks) that led to his own shot at directing. Charles Brackett worked with Wilder as usual, Wilder functioning as the story originator and gagman, and Brackett cleaning up the Germanicisms cluttering Wilder's sentences. The cast is superb, with Claudette Colbert turning in one of her greatest performances as a young woman determined to capture a rich husband, but who instead inconveniently gets involved with a Parisian cab driver. Don Ameche was never better than in this film playing that Parisian cab driver. Mary Astor, who was extremely pregnant during filming, is her usual superb self, while the rest of the cast is littered with talented veteran character actors. The most bittersweet performance is the simultaneous hysterical and tragic performance by John Barrymore as a drunken dissipated nobleman. No question, the man turns in a funny, funny performance, but it is tragic because the appearance of drunkenness and dissipation was not the result of acting. Barrymore was suffering from advanced alcoholism during the filming, and was only a couple of years away from his premature death brought on by cirrhosis of the liver. The man once known as "The Great Profile" no longer was the extraordinarily handsome man he had been only five years earlier. He is funny, but it somehow seems unfitting that one of the great stage and screen actors of the 20th century should have ended his career as a bit of a buffoon.
The screenplay is if a kind that we no longer see, and was the result of a huge influx of European talent in the 1930s escaping the political situation in Europe. So many great films directed by Lubitsch and Wilder and others put an enormously European twist to love and romance, and in no film is this more true than this one: an adventurous woman trying to scale the social ladder by snaring a man, a gigolo seducing another man's wife, the husband scheming to reclaim his wife with the help of the would-be adventurous, and meanwhile a poor cabbie trying to find the woman he loves. Delicious stuff, and it is a credit to Leisen and the largely non-European cast that they pull the whole thing off so believably. In this film, at least, he manages a European elegance and sophistication that would have done Lubitsch proud.
This film is being co-released with two other films, all of them interestingly linked, MIDNIGHT and EASY LIVING. Billy Wilder wrote the screenplay for MIDNIGHT and directed and wrote THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR. Preston Sturges wrote EASY LIVING and in 1940 would direct his first film, THE GREAT MCGINTY. Mitchell Leisen directed both MIDNIGHT and EASY LIVING. During the late 1930s Leisen directed a string of great comedies, but almost all of them had been written by either Sturges or Wilder. While THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR and MIDNIGHT represented the start of major directorial careers for Wilder and Sturges, the sudden lack of quality scripts signaled the end of Mitchell Leisen career as a great director.