Thursday, January 17, 2013

Worth Watching: Midnight (1939)

Title: Midnight
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Language: English
Rating: Not rated

Eve Peabody (Claudette Colbert) is a quick-thinking American gold-digger who arrives in Paris on a rainy night, penniless but wearing an evening gown. She's picked up at the train station by a gruff taxi driver, Tibor Czerny (Don Ameche), and the two drive around the city and stop to have some food.

Claudette Colbert and John Barrymore plotting in Midnight

Though they're attracted to each other, Eve can't imagine getting involved with a taxi driver, so she flees his cab and crashes a late night recital attended by upper class notables including George Flammarion (John Barrymore), his wife, Helene (Mary Astor), and his wife's lover, Jacques Picot (Francis Lederer). Eve passes herself off as a noblewoman, and the only one who sees through her guise is George, who offers her money to break up his wife's affair by luring Jacques away. So Eve finds herself in a dilemma - should she marry Jacques, the wealthy playboy, or tenacious Tibor, who's been searching for her ever since she disappeared from his cab?

Claudette Colbert as Eve Peabody in Midnight

Colbert is charming and funny, and gives her character a hard edge too, as Eve tries to focus on the intrigue she's involved in and not get sentimental about anyone. The filmmakers seem determined that she and Tibor get together, but there are moments of troubled reflection on her part. Eve tells Tibor that her parents' marriage soured over money issues. And she can't imagine keeping house all day long as Tibor drives around in his taxi. Their conflicting outlooks on life are a real issue, but because this is a light-hearted comedy any concerns are swept away. They'll have their happily ever after even if it kills them.

The ending wasn't as funny as I'd hoped it would be (some parts of it made me cringe). You know how I wish the movie would have ended? With Eve and George teaming up as con artists and infiltrating royal palaces and embassies across Europe. I really liked the dynamic between Colbert and John Barrymore as co-conspirators.

Claudette Colbert and John Barrymore plotting in Midnight

Barrymore's performance in Midnight is deranged. The gears in his head are whirring a few seconds out of sync with everyone else's. He comes across as bored, rich, and off his rocker. In short, he's delightful.

John Barrymore and Mary Astor in Midnight

He and Colbert are the highlights of this movie (along with Rex O'Malley playing Marcel, Helene's witty and effete confidant). The dialogue is funny, the characters play off of each other well, and even though Tibor and Eve's romance was problematic and didn't move me much, at least the comedy side in this comedy-romance was entertaining.

*All images link back to their source (Flixster Community).

8 comments:

naida said...

Sounds very entertaining. You know I have yet to watch John Barrymore on screen. I know he's a legend though.

manymediamusings said...

I've only seen Midnight once, but you've made me interested in revisiting it to have a second look at Barrymore's role. My memories of the movie mostly are of the verbal sparring between Colbert and Ameche, which often had me in stitches.

Relyn Lawson said...

I do love your movie reviews. Did I ever tell you about You Were Never Lovlier? Best old movie ever. Well, except for It's a Wonderful Life.

HKatz said...

@ Naida, I think you'd enjoy his work. He had a real flair for the dramatic and also good comedic skills. A riveting actor to watch, even in this movie, when he was physically in decline and had alcohol problems.

@ manymediamusings, it's funny but I liked the Colbert-Ameche sparring mostly because of Colbert. Ameche just seemed to fade out for me.

@ Relyn, thanks! I've heard of You Were Never Lovelier (it's with Astaire and Hayworth?) I think it's on my list of movies to watch, so hopefully I'll get around to it at some point. Rita Hayworth was a fantastic dancer; I've seen some Youtube clips.

gretchen9449 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gretchen9449 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gretchen9449 said...

Purchased this movie for AUD 4.95 in a department store. What a wonderful madcap movie. Great storyline (rather preposterous the whole thing, but that's part of its charm), fabulous supporting actors and actresses, beautiful fashions, fashionable high society, and lovely, lavish sets - all played for laughs. A great way to pass time in the holidays. Well worth watching!!

HKatz said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Gretchen. I did love the look of the movie too (all the dresses and the fancy sets), and it worked really well as a comedy. Preposterous story lines can work as long as they're funny or sharp enough and the tone of the film stays consistent :)