Monday, May 17, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Arise, My Love (1940)

ARISE, MY LOVE has been very high on my viewing wish list for a long time, so I was thrilled when it recently debuted on Turner Classic Movies. This unusual film, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Story, is described by Steven Scheuer as an "important, nearly forgotten comedy-melodrama." Scheuer is accurate on both counts, and it's a mystery to me why this film is not better known. It deserves to be rediscovered.

It's 1939, and Tom Martin (Ray Milland) is a pilot who is about to be executed for fighting on the losing side in the Spanish Civil War, when he is suddenly rescued by his "wife" (Claudette Colbert), who has engineered his pardon. Tom's phony wife is actually a newspaper reporter named Augusta Nash, who sees rescuing Tom as a big scoop and a step up the career ladder.

Augusta is all business, but despite himself Tom falls for her. Augusta has been assigned to her paper's Berlin office and Tom has decided to fly for Poland, but -- after a heavy-duty campaign on Tom's part -- the duo detour to the countryside for a romantic interlude. Germany simultaneously invades Poland, and Tom and Augusta decide to abandon their career plans and head for the security of the United States. Their experience on the ship Athenia, sunk by a U-boat off the coast of Ireland, changes their minds...perhaps they still have important jobs to do in Europe.

The film mixes lush romance, hilarious dialogue, and a somber wartime setting; a comment at IMDb says the film answers the question "What if CASABLANCA had been done as a screwball comedy?" Perhaps improbably, it all works. The movie has an excellent, very witty script by the great Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett.

The skillful blending of genres -- comedy, romance, "road" movie, war film -- calls to mind another film which had a little bit of everything yet worked beautifully, Frank Borzage's HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT (1937). The films even share a climactic sequence on a sinking ship.

The sophisticated script has some double entendres which are eye-popping for 1940; Moira has a sample at Skeins of Thought. According to an article at Turner Classic Movies, director Mitchell Leisen managed to skirt around the Production Code by shooting dialogue which was even more outrageous, yet was never intended to be in the finished film. Leisen is quoted "Of course we had our problems with the censors. If I was afraid something in a scene might not pass, I’d insert another one in the same scene that was absolutely outrageous. Then the censor would start screaming bloody murder that the line had to come out, never noticing the thing I wanted to keep."

The topical script was constantly revised to keep up with war developments. I also enjoyed a character reading a paper and commenting on the news that an actress had finally been cast to play Scarlett O'Hara!

The lead performances are both excellent, with particular credit going to Ray Milland as one very romantic fellow. He causes laughs with the mere raise of an eyebrow, as in a scene where he spots Colbert's boss (Walter Abel) with a telling bandage. Milland and Colbert have great chemistry. I'd love the chance to see their other films together.

ARISE, MY LOVE runs 110 minutes. The supporting cast includes Dennis O'Keefe, Esther Dale, Frank Puglia, George Zucco, and Ann Codee. In addition to winning the Oscar for Best Story, the film was nominated for Best Black and White Cinematography, Best Score, and Best Black and White Art Direction.

This film is not available on DVD or VHS. ARISE, MY LOVE, along with the Colbert-MacMurray-Milland film THE GILDED LILY (1935) and Colbert and Milland's SKYLARK (1941), would seem to be a great candidate for a follow-up set to the Claudette Colbert Collection.

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