Tuesday, May 10, 2011

History is Made at Night (1937)

The love that sank the Titanic

I really wanted to like this movie. As a Jean Arthur cheerleader with Mrs. Charles Boyer written all over my notebooks (I actually wish I wasn't kidding) I had all the hope and blind faith in the world. But in love as in war rosy beginnings often beget bitter ends. See All Quiet on the Western Front as reference.

History is Made at Night is not a war film in genre. In fact the script is never really able to decide what it wants to be at all. Instead the battlefield is one of character.

Boyer lacks the oceanic charm he would perfect two years later in Love Affair. Arthur fills her usual role as part movie star, part bashful child. One side of her face lit to perfection, the other, when it is shown (and rarely is it shown) a shadow of a girl who's just been told by a boy that she shouldn't wear her hair in pigtails because it looks prettier down.

The love is stale. To create beautiful music requires a rhythm, a build up. Here there is one brief beginning scene where all suddenly and unceremoniously falls into place. A crudely drawn face on Charles Boyer's hand meant to speak his feelings to Arthur adds embarrassment rather than tenderness.

Yet the above is all by the poorly written book. Until the end. Saints alive the end.

I know Hollywood likes to play fast and loose with the facts for a variety of reasons. But having Arthur and Boyer jump ship, pretty literally in a plot nosedive that lands them on some twisted Titanic II is simply crass. In fact it's worse than crass. Not quite despicable but somewhere in the realm of shameful. While the boat the two travel on at the end of the film is not meant to be a period piece aboard that most famous of ocean liners all the signs are there. A poorly made decision to break a speed record, a direct hit with an iceberg, lack of lifeboats amidst chaos, even a group of musicians performing stoically when the ship is supposed to go down. But it is not the Titanic, nor is it the same story. For in this tale all interest and potential blame is reduced to the needs of a romantic plot line and dramatic tension. 1,517 people degraded for a convenient end.

The result is sea sickness.

I know some people love this film, and that I'm letting dramatics run away with me. I appreciate that someone was kind enough to bring my attention to it. But personally I can only shake my head at lost potential, and hang it for what in my view is a lack of respect shown lost life.

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