Sunday, August 04, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Hold Back the Dawn (1941) - An Arrow Academy Blu-ray Review

HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941), a treasure of a film long missing from home viewing formats, has just been released on Blu-ray by Arrow Academy.

The first time I saw the film, in 2010, my only option was to watch it in chapters on YouTube. That's not my preferred way to watch a movie, but I was so anxious to see it that I did, and the film cast a magical spell despite having to constantly click to get to the next section of the film.

A couple years later I had the wonderful opportunity to see the movie in 35mm at UCLA as part of their marvelous series honoring director Mitchell Leisen.

Olivia de Havilland's daughter Gisele was in the audience that night. The print, the special guest, and the introduction by Leisen biographer David Chierichetti combined for one of those special evenings which linger in the memory. Chierichetti passed on in 2016 so I am all the more grateful I had the chance to meet him and have him sign my copy of his book.

HOLD BACK THE DAWN, a multiple Oscar nominee from Paramount Pictures, was written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, based on a story by Ketti Frings. It's the story of a gigolo named Georges (Charles Boyer), a Romanian war refugee stuck waiting in the Mexican border town in hopes of obtaining a visa to enter the United States.

Georges runs into Anita (Paulette Goddard), his former dance partner, and she suggests he marry an American in order to get into the country. Presto, he'll be in in a matter of weeks and then can get a divorce.

Georges' "mark" is Emmy, a shy, soulful, and naive teacher from Azusa who's in Mexico with a school group, and within hours she agrees to marry Georges.

Life is funny, though, and despite himself Georges finds himself falling for Emmy for real. But the marriage won't last if Anita has anything to say about it.

The film is remarkably undated, especially given current issues regarding our Southern border.

It's also, as I described in 2010, "simultaneously darkly cynical and lushly romantic," reflecting a combination of the styles of the screenwriters and director.

de Havilland more than deserved her Best Actress nomination, giving a glowing performance as innocent Emmy. It's one of my favorite de Havilland roles of her entire career. The moving, delicately played honeymoon scenes in particular linger long in the memory.

Boyer and Goddard are each perfect for their roles, complete pros who bring a great deal to the film. Each time I've viewed it I've really felt that Rosemary DeCamp should have received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her role as an Austrian refugee. DeCamp's facility with accents and portraying varied ages throughout her career would put Meryl Streep to shame, and she's extremely memorable in this one.

The movie runs 116 minutes. It was filmed in black and white by Leo Tover.

The cast also includes Walter Abel, Victor Francen, Curt Bois, Nestor Paiva, Billy Lee, Madeleine LeBeau, and Michele Cheirel. There are fun cameos by director Leisen, Veronica Lake, and Brian Donlevy, who is turning up in my viewing this year with amazing regularity.

The restoration of the print was supervised by James White of Arrow Films from a scan of a safety duplicate 35mm negative.

The Arrow case has nice reversible cover art; see the top of this post for one of the options. It also contains a 20-page booklet with an essay by Farran Smith Nehme, known to many of my readers as the Self-Styled Siren. I loved an essay she wrote on the film in 2010, the year I first saw the film, and was delighted she shared her thoughts as part of this new set.

The booklet also contains several glossy photos, a real treat to enjoy along with the movie and disc extras.

The extensive Arrow Blu-ray extras include an audio commentary by Adrian Martin, a featurette on the movie, a 1971 interview with Olivia de Havilland, the trailer, a stills gallery, and a Lux Radio Theater production in which Susan Hayward plays the de Havilland role opposite Boyer and Goddard.

Arrow Academy has done some terrific classic film releases this year, including MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945) and THE BIG CLOCK (1948), and I'm especially thrilled with this release of HOLD BACK THE DAWN as, other than being shown on Turner Classic Movies in recent years, it's been so hard for many people to see it for so long.

In 2010 I wrote: "It's very wrong that hundreds of Paramount films continue to be so hard to access. They're an essential part of American cinema history and our cultural heritage, and they deserve to be widely seen."

There are still many Paramount films which are difficult if not impossible to see, but thanks to Arrow this special movie has been freed at last so that it may be enjoyed by new audiences. I couldn't be happier and consider this one of the year's top classic film releases.

Highly recommended.

Thanks to Arrow Academy for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Vienna said...

Must get this blu ray. Such a good cast.

12:38 AM  

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