Combustible Celluloid
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With: Charles Boyer, Jean Arthur, Leo Carrillo, Colin Clive, Ivan Lebedeff, George Meeker, Lucien Prival, George Davis
Written by: Gene Towne, C. Graham Baker, Vincent Lawrence, David Hertz
Directed by: Frank Borzage
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 97
Date: 03/05/1937

History Is Made at Night (1937)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Iceberg Hearted

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Frank Borzage's History Is Made at Night, which Andrew Sarris declared the most romantic title in the history of the cinema, is also a deeply romantic film, made by a director that many call one of the true great romantics. Its crazy love-triangle story begins in Paris, where a wealthy, jealous husband, Bruce Vail (Colin Clive) hires a man to pretend to be having an affair with his wife, Irene (Jean Arthur), so that she can't divorce him. Unexpectedly, a stranger comes to her rescue, beats up the other man, and pretends to kidnap Irene. He's Paul Dumond (Charles Boyer), a charming headwaiter at a fancy restaurant. He takes her there for food, drink, and dancing, and they fall in love.

But the man Paul beat up is dead, and Paul looks like the murderer. Bruce blackmails Irene into ditching Paul in exchange for Paul's freedom, and they head for New York. Paul goes there, too, and in order to find Irene, he and his best pal chef Cesare (Leo Carrillo) literally open a restaurant in the hopes that the good reviews will lure Irene there. And it works! This all leads up to the climax on a ship, owned by Paul, crossing the Atlantic, and headed for an iceberg! Borzage's gift is that he makes this bizarre, convoluted story somehow flow, while feeling totally natural and honest. The emotions felt in it are absolutely genuine, and it truly is a thing of beauty.

The Criterion Collection released this film, which I'd been wanting to see for ages, on Blu-ray in 2021. (The company also released Borzage's masterpiece Moonrise.) The disc has been mastered in 4K with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack, and it's a stunner. Bonuses include a conversation between film historian Peter Cowie and Hervé Dumont, author of a book about Borzage; an interview with critic Farran Smith Nehme; audio excerpts of a 1958 interview with Borzage; a radio adaptation of the film from 1940, starring Boyer; a restoration demonstration; and optional subtitles. The liner notes booklet includes an essay by critic Dan Callahan. This is highly recommended.

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