Sunday, December 2, 2012

History Is Made at Night (1937)

Director: Frank Borzage

In the recent times of 1937 Hollywood had produced a string of romantic dramas centered around large disasters, as seen in such pictures as In San Francisco and In Old Chicago, which would release near the very end of the year. In History Is Made at Night audiences get a romantic story concluding on a Titanic-like disaster where an ocean liner crashes into an iceberg. Although this film is has no basis towards anything about the tragic liner that sank in 1912, it does use the inspiration from the infamous legend to bring its love story to an epic conclusion. In reality the picture is a tale of a terribly one sided love triangle and the quarrels that come from it.

History Is Made at Night is a romantic drama of a wife to a very wealthy man whose suspicions leads her to falling into another man’s arms, ultimately destroying more than a marriage, but a also senselessly taking the lives of many innocent people. Irene (Jean Arthur) is falsely accused of an affair by her very wealthy and very possessive husband Bruce (Colin Clive). With her seeking a divorce Bruce tries to frame Irene by staging an affair for her, but the dramatic charade is interpreted by a man named Paul (Charles Boyer), who saves Irene before wining and dining her at the restaurant he happens to be head waiter of. The two fall madly in love, but Bruce stages Paul as a murderer of a man Paul actually killed, leaving Irene to succumb to the wills and travel away with her husband, so that Paul is not arrested.

Paul travels from his homeland of France all the way to New York to find his love, where they are reunited and pronounce their love by returning to France where Paul is surely set to stand trial for his supposed crimes, They do so aboard an ocean liner built by Bruce and named after Irene. With this knowledge Bruce from his offices on land demands the ship to set course at a high pace while traveling through dangerous freezing waters, leading to a tremendous collision with an iceberg. Believing he had sent scores of people to their deaths Bruce shoots himself with a confession notes freeing Paul from his supposed crimes. The ship though is kept from drowning by remaining aground to the iceberg, where our lovers await the coming of rescue ships.

The picture makes for a rather simple and very romantic love story of how a loyal wife that is abused by a very jealous husband is led into the arms of a very charming man. Ladies are sure to fall in love with the charisma of Charles Boyer’s character Paul. The veteran actress of Jean Arthur plays Irene very simple and pure, producing a very likable leading lady who is pure at heart. Colin Clive, most known for his role as Dr. Frankenstein, plays the villainous husband with his wicked psychosis of a man that believes he must control all things around him with his money and power. Everything his opposite is encompassed by Charles Boyer’s Paul. Paul is not a rich man, but is a very successful head waiter at the best restaurant in Paris, and even turns around a poor restaurant in New York City in order to find his lost love though the restaurant’s sure success. To help Paul is his best friend and closest confidant Cesare, the finest chef in Paris, or he loves to claim as the finest in the world, played by former vaudevillian Leo Carrillo with a over-the-top French accent.

The love story is capped with a magnificent catastrophe of the ocean line “The Princess Irene,” named after the character played by Jean Arthur, crashing into an iceberg. Director Frank Borzage shines in creating this disaster. The moments create a tragedy that mirrors that of the famed Titanic of 25 years before, bringing to life what it would be like to be aboard a ship that suddenly came to strike an iceberg while on its way from New York to Europe.

Borzage has been directing since the silent era of motion picture, including winning the very first Academy Award for directing. His direction of the love story is masterful, shooting the scene where Paul woes Irene in his empty restaurant, compiling beautiful shots that make women wish for such romance, manifest just why Borzage was chosen for the job as director. His work on creating the tragedy of the Princess Irene and the iceberg establishes that he knows what to do much more with film. Perhaps the best shot in the film is the most haunting as well as we are shown Bruce committing suicide in where we only hear a gun shot, and see his confession note as the gun smoke wafts through the frame. It is simplicity such as that which seems the most powerful.

Ironically the resemblance to a disaster when the Princess Irene crashes into the iceberg can be overshadowed by actual events in the world that took place a mere two months after the release of the picture. In the film Bruce states that he is set to fly from America to Europe to see Paul’s conviction on the German dirigible Hindenburg. With the picture released in March 5, 1937 the real Hindenburg would not make it’s madden voyage for a short time, and on May 6 the Hindenburg would be engulfed in flames as it fell from the sky in the now infamous calamity. Therefore within two months of the picture’s release, the Hindenburg went from a thing of great stature to a symbol very similar to the Titanic in tragedies.

History Is Made at Night would go on to barely break even, making a profit of only over $17,000. The romantic center of the picture for women and the ultimate action in the conclusion would not prove to bring in much of an audience, but it does show how Hollywood was thinking of mixing the genres of romance and disasters into singular picture as a trend. 20th Century-Fox was in the middle of producing a major feature centered of a disaster of their own with In Old Chicago. It would be a small trend in American cinema in the late 1930s. Special effects were getting better, and it was only a matter of time before more elaborate film would be attempted by the major studios.

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