Saturday, February 12, 2011

MIDNIGHT | 1939 | Remember in MIDNIGHT, when... That was awesome.

"The baby must've had one highball too many."

Eve Peabody (Claudette Colbert) is a gold-digger.  She's not the crass unlikeable variety, but a saucy and pragmatic one.  She feels some chemistry developing with Tibor Czerny, but he's just a cab driver in Paris.  Afraid of falling for Tibor, she ditches him.  Soon after, she attracts the attention of Jacques, a wealthy ladies man.  Georges Flammarion (John Barrymore) encourages the connection because prior to Eve, Jacques (Francis Lederer) had been romancing his wife Helene.  Georges concocts a plan to help Eve land Jacques, in order to regain his wife's dedicated affection.  All the while, Tibor searches for Eve, because he is confident she feels the same as he does.  By the time he finds her, Jacques is preparing to ask for her hand in marriage.

I am months late to write about this one.  When I don't do something, there's a whole mess of legitmate and lame-ass reasons, and this is no exception.  The spin I'm putting on it, though, is that I didn't write about it because I love it too much.  All I can really do is list out what I think is awesome about the film.

Which is really all I've been able to do about any of these films.  I thought that by now I'd at least be dipping a toe in the pool of a thesis or blanket opinion or something or other about screwball, rom-com or comedy, but I got nothing.

I hate to give in to legitmate reasons for not doing something, and hate being a lame-ass, ever, and so I'm going to follow through with this damn thing and keep watching the freakin' movies.  The whole experiment may devolve into a blog ala Chris Farley, but the only way I'll know is if I keep showing up and floundering my way through.

Alright then, about "Midnight" - - -

Eve (Claudette Colbert), in evening wear, arrives in Paris on a rainy night.  She's broke, left what few things she owns in Monte Carlo.  She looks around, and, "So this, as they say, is Paris, huh?  Well from here it looks an awful lot like a rainy night in Kokomo, Indiana."

Eve sneaks into a private party where a concert is in progress, finds what she thinks is an empty chair and tries to sit down quietly, only to sit on a dog that barks and becomes a sort of whoopee cushion/car alarm in the midst of a calm and refined gathering.
Aweome physical comedy.

Young Don Ameche.

The way Tibor (Don Ameche) treats his cabbie peers, pays someone to call a cab just to empty a restaurant and get them all away from Eve, sets up a sort of lottery where all funds go to the driver who finds Eve, creating a horn-honking traffic-jam until the doorman at the hotel tells him where Eve is, showing up at the weekend house wise to the situation and acting like a baron, and then, AND THEN, his whole shaving schtick with the judge...

Georges Flammarion (John Barrymore) pretends to be a nanny, and tells the fake mom of a make-believe child that the kid doesn't have measles but was simply sick because of alcohol poisoning, "One highball too many."

John Barrymore is crazy endearing as Georges Flammarion.  It's a bit of a no-brainer because he's playing a likable guy.  Georges loves his wife so much that when he sees that his wife's boyfriend has taken an interest in Eve, he pulls a Cinderella's Godmother act on her, and not with the mean-spirited intent to fake an affair with her and somehow make his wife jealous.  He helps Eve appear to be a member of monied society so that she can nurture the attraction his wife's boyfriend has already revealed.     He's being a matchmaker with the goal of keeping the married people together, and pushing two singles who like each other together.  Both practical and sweet.

Plus Georges is never boring, earnest, or victim-y.  He plans to solve his problems efficiently, but he has a lot of fun with the process too.  Barrymore plays him jauntily, he makes this cuckold playful and joyful that you don't worry that the wife might end her affair and return to a man who manipulated her heart by helping engineer the demise of her affair.  He somehow makes you want her to return to him without ever trying to make you feel sorry for him, nor angry with her.

This is what is so fantastic about this genre:  The subject is often love, and the stakes are high.  The characters fight, develop crazy schemes, and pull stunts to get what they want.  Yet win or lose I can't think of an instance of self-pity or wallowing.

The characters are fearless, even when the object of their affection is cheating, leaving, marrying someone else or otherwise unavailable.  I get the sense that if it all fell through and there were no happy ending, there'd be no hard feelings.  There seems to be an unshakable faith in the abundance of love, liquor, and opportunity; faith that if they give it their all and fail, eventually another equally appealing goal would appear...  To be pursued with the same clear-eyed, full-hearted energy as the previous one.

Released:  1939
Director:  Mitchell Leisen
Producer:  A. Hornblow Jr.
Leads:  Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore, Mary Astor, Francis Lederer
Writers (screenplay):  Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett
Writers (story):  Edwin Justus Mayer, Franz Schulz