For Reel

History Is Made at Night (1937)
March 18, 2012, 9:05 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Frank Borzage

Frank Borzage, the great romanticist of American cinema, is at his most unabashed in the enchanting History Is Made at Night. Concluding with – what else? – a Titanic-like disaster, the film is a patchwork of genre extremes, achieving a pinnacle of melodramatic invention. Jean Arthur plays the wife of the sadistic Colin Clive, who jealously seeks to frame her for infidelity after she files for divorce. By chance, a Parisian headwaiter overhears the set-up and poses as a jewel thief in order to rescue the girl without being mistaken as her lover. This is one of those pictures in which a single night of romance must be of such an intensity that it can quench the audience’s lustful thirst before depriving them of the final consummation. It works. As the pair dances in a vacant restaurant, Arthur flings off her heels in what is surely one of the most memorably liberating, sexual moments in all of classic Hollywood cinema. Arthur and Boyer are marvelous together, but a word should be said for Colin Clive, whose performance has been criticized as being excessive. Though he might be a monster, C. Graham Baker’s script wisely ensures the audience that he does, in fact, love Arthur, albeit perversely so. Watch the way that he nearly strangles Arthur while looking for a kiss, or the fear in his eyes as he suspects the worst of her fate. He is not merely the villain, but the antithesis of Boyer’s lover, developing a firm juxtaposition between romantic love and obsession. This would be Clive’s penultimate performance before his tragic death in 1937.

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