HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT is a remarkable film, one of those movies that you watch for the first time and wonder how you could possibly have missed something so good for so many years.
Sensitively directed by Frank Borzage, the film tells the story of Irene Vail (Jean Arthur) who leaves her insanely jealous husband Bruce (Colin Clive) and through an unexpected series of circumstances meets and falls in love with a charming Parisian head waiter, Paul Dumond (Charles Boyer). Bruce will resort to anything to keep Irene and Paul apart -- even murder. Will true love conquer all?
Arthur and Boyer are at the peak of their stardom in this film, and they share wonderful chemistry. Surely Arthur was never more beautiful and Boyer never more dashing than in this movie. This is the Golden Age of Cinema in top form.
To tell much more would be to spoil a wonderful surprise. The movie veers from romantic comedy to melodrama to disaster movie, yet somehow despite -- or because of? -- incorporating these varied styles in one film, it all works. The fog-shrouded climax is heart-stopping.
One reviewer notes: "The unique quality of History Is Made at Night is its ability to turn on a dime, flipping from one extreme to another so that the extremes intensify each other... Borzage uses the best things about several genres here in order to make us feel their properties more intensely."
Colin Clive, who is truly scary as Arthur's obsessed husband, died shortly after the film was released. He was just 37 years old.
In 1935's IF YOU COULD ONLY COOK, Leo Carrillo plays a gangster with a gourmet appetite and Arthur is his cook. This time around, Carrillo cooks for Arthur; he plays a famed gourmet chef who is also Boyer's loyal best friend.
The excellent black and white cinematography is by David Abel and (uncredited) the great Gregg Toland (CITIZEN KANE). The score is by Alfred Newman. The movie runs 97 minutes.
HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT is available on video. This is a movie that deserves to be put on DVD as soon as possible. Vote here to indicate interest in a DVD release.
More links on this film (more explicit spoilers are included in these reviews than I have posted here): Self-Styled Siren, Reverse Shot, and Hal Erickson.
Update: More good posts at Mildred Fierce and Another Old Movie Blog.
February 14, 2013 Update: Here's an account of seeing a restored print of this film in 35mm at UCLA.