I first saw HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT almost exactly five years ago, and I immediately fell in love with this lushly romantic and rather unusual film. When I learned that a restored 35mm print would be shown tonight at UCLA as part of their Archive Treasures series, I immediately knew I couldn't miss what might possibly be my only opportunity to see it on a big screen.
I anticipated that this special film would be a rather overwhelming experience seen in 35mm, and indeed it was. The film is swooningly romantic from the moment Jean Arthur kicks off her shoes to dance with Charles Boyer in a near-empty cafe, building to an unforgettable climax when a fogbound ocean liner, the SS Princess Irene, hits an iceberg; in particular, the adoration Boyer conveys for Arthur is enough to make any woman fall in love with him. As Sean Axmaker writes at Turner Classic Movies, "...the grace of Borzage's direction and the emotional conviction and palpable devotion of its two stars makes this romance glow with the fires of true love."
On this viewing I was also struck that this is a film about more than one loving relationship; the devoted friendship of Boyer and Leo Carrillo's characters is also deeply touching.
This United Artists release needs to be available on DVD! Below is my February 2008 review, augmented with additional images.
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?
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.