Friday, August 26, 2016


Bruce Vail (Colin Clive) is a shipping magnate whose company is working on a new passenger liner named after his wife Irene (Jean Arthur). But their married life is on the rocks, to say the least: he is constantly jealous, thinking she's having affairs, and she—who is unhappily faithful to him—finally decides she wants a divorce and moves out into a hotel room. Bruce tries to put a hitch in her plans by hiring his chauffeur to go to her room and be "caught" in the act of seduction, which would pressure her to drop the divorce, but in the midst of this, a man (Charles Boyer), apparently a thief hiding on the balcony, enters the room, knocks out the chauffeur and locks Bruce in a closet. But Paul Dumond is not a thief; he was putting a passed-out friend to bed in the next room and overheard the ruckus in Irene's room, so broke in to save a damsel in distress. Paul takes Irene to the Chateau Bleu just as it's closing and sweet-talks the chef Cesare (Leo Carillo) and the band into staying open just for the two of them. It's a lovely meet-cute situation and the two fall for each other, but back in the hotel room, Bruce, thinking that Paul was Irene's lover, kills the chauffeur to put the blame on Paul, a and forces Irene to travel to New York City with him. Sure enough, she does, disappointing Paul who is actually the headwaiter at the Chateau Bleu. So what does Paul do? Of course, he and Cesare head to New York City hoping to break into the restaurant business to impress Irene who he hopes will come running back to him. However, Paul has heard nothing about the murder so is unaware that she left to save him from scrutiny. The unhappy Irene does eventually wander into Paul's restaurant, but because her husband is with her, Paul is upset. Will these two kids ever get together? Will Paul go on trial for murder?

Did I mention the Titanic-like climax, as the liner named for Irene, with Paul and Irene on board, hits an iceberg? That makes for one of the strangest scenes ever in what is essentially a romantic comedy. And this is one of the more unusual movies of its era. The plot, full of incident and unusual turns, feels fairly contemporary, as do its tonal shifts from comedy to romance to drama. The sequence of Boyer and Arthur getting to know each other is quite charming, but at various points along the way, you're not sure that the two will wind up together and/or alive, and that's unusual for a 30s romance. They make a very good screen couple, and this may be my favorite Boyer performance—I looked back at my reviews of other Boyer films and I nearly always say, "I’m not really a Boyer fan, but I liked him here," so maybe I'm actually a Boyer fan. Carillo functions as a comic relief wingman most of the time and he does a good job. Colin Clive's character is basically a one-note sociopath and it's difficult to care at all about him, or to understand the lengths he goes to in order to keep a wife who hates him. A different actor may have been able to flesh out Vail a bit, but he's really just a cardboard villain. Also with Ivan Lebedeff as the ill-fated chauffeur. [Criterion streaming]

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