October 17, 2013 at 2:10 pm
I always wonder when I see the lists of "the hundred best films ever made" etc. You see, there is one thing that I have discovered over the years of delving around in old films, and it is this. It is not possible to compile lists of the best films ever made for the simple reason that some of the best films ever made are lying forgotten on shelves in film libraries, and, sadly, some are lost. There are so many great films that the public never get to see. The critics will have you believe that pictures like This is the Night is not particularly good, and is only of interest to fans of Cary Grant and Thelma Todd. People have forgotten all about it. The director, the star, the film is today forgotten.
Then you play the film. The acting is utterly superb, the comic timing superb. The film is cleverly and adventurously put together by the film makers. All the players, Grant, Todd, Ruggles and Young are excellent.
What is there to say about the lead, Damita? Well, with the coming of talking pictures, Damita with her French accent found it tough to get parts that would utilise her exceptional talents. Here is an exception. Not many people know that at Hollywood parties Damita was Chaplin’s number one rival when it came to mime during party pieces. In one scene, we get a glimpse at the sort of thing that helped the Hollywood parties go with a swing. In dialogue Damita’s comic timing is spot on, which just goes to show that you do not have to be mug ugly to be a comedienne. When she is on screen the laughter is the loudest. And sex appeal? She has been called "a French bombshell." If so, the French have to test her in the Pacific.
It would be criminal to ruin it all by telling everybody what the plot is. All I will say is that if you are not smiling or laughing at this film from beginning to end, then there is something wrong with YOU.
So next time you see a list of the 100 best films ever made, ignore it. My advice to you is to go out and find your own 100 best films. If you don’t, you could miss gems like this, and the loser will be YOU.
A slight-but-enjoyable romantic farce, THIS IS THE NIGHT is an entertaining little film that should earn a place in cinematic history simply because it contains the feature film debut of Cary Grant, who soon become arguably the most famous movie star of all time. Although he is regulated to playing a largely secondary character, Grant's incomparable screen presence makes him a standout from the very start. Playing an Olympic athlete, Grant makes his entrance into the world of cinema with a light step and a sharp wit – singing about apartment keys, no less! It's a memorable debut, and there are numerous other moments throughout the picture in which Grant demonstrates much of the early promise that would soon flower into full-throttle, megawatt star power in just a few short years.
As for the rest of the film, it is a reasonably solid comedy of adulterous affairs, with some surprisingly risqué elements that were permitted in the days before the Production Code was heavily enforced due to pressure from the National Legion of Decency in l933. The film begins delightfully as a light comedic ballet, with director Frank Turtle providing some truly madcap slapstick and even recitative singing that sets the viewer up for a knockabout farce. Unfortunately, this progressively free-wheeling atmosphere is largely abandoned in the film's last half, which plays out in a more or less predictable manner. The film still holds up perfectly well, however, until the too-conservative ending, which is a big disappointment after over 70 minutes of uninhibited fun.
On the plus side, the film is very well cast, and the actors manage to keep the picture engaging even after the initial momentum of the exhilarating first-half is long gone. Although she makes somewhat of an delayed entrance, Lili Damita brings both pluck and intelligence to the female lead, Roland Young makes the transformation of his somewhat unsympathetic character highly believable, and both Grant and Charles Ruggles offer top-notch support. The lovely Thelma Todd also makes the most of a rather bland role, and her talent for making a relatively thankless character seem genuinely inspired serves as a bittersweet reminder of yet another comedic great that was taken from us way too soon. In the end, THIS IS THE NIGHT is far too inconsistent to ever be considered a great movie, but it sure is a lot of fun!
Frank Tuttle was a highly competent house director for many years, working for Sam Goldwyn, Paramount and so forth, turning out well-made movies in which the style served the story. In our day of auteur worship and the insistence that, if a critic can't tell who directed a film without looking at the credits, it is not a good film, craftsmen like Tuttle are considered hacks. I disagree. You may disagree with me. We'll leave that unsettled for the moment and thumb wrestle over it later.
This movie has all the earmarks of a Lubitsch picture: the European settings (Paris, Hollywood, which Lubitsch said he much preferred to Paris France; Venice, where he had set the opening of TROUBLE IN PARADISE two years earlier) and is the sort of racy European comedy that Paramount specialized in until the Production Code killed them dead later that year. The setups are all Lubitsch: the recitative number "Madame Has Lost Her Dress" that opens the movie; The sexual imagery of Cary Grant carrying around a bagful of javelins and reducing Roland Young and Charlie Ruggles to blithering idiocy; Thelma Todd in her underwear; and into this mess lands Lily Damita, an honest girl reduced to sleeping on movie sets: trouble in Paris, Hollywood.
Although Tuttle lacks the ability to direct actors in the small, exquisite details that Lubitsch did, he had a fine hand at framing and storyline. The movie is near perfect, except for the miscasting of Roland Young as the love interest….. but perhaps that is the point of the matter: we do not always fall in love with Maurice Chevalier.
Claire (Thelma Todd) and Gerald (Roland Young) are carrying on a rather heated affair, but just as they are about to go away together to Venice, Claire's javelin-throwing husband Stephen (Cary Grant) returns home. In order to dispel his distrust, Gerald hires a woman to pose as his wife. Germaine (Lili Damita) is a hungry young French actress who poses as a more experienced woman named Chou Chou. She vamps Gerald incessantly while Stephen is around, and she is so successful that she makes Claire insanely jealous.
This sing-songy film is a delight to watch. It is fast-paced, comedic, and filled with a stellar cast, but it is not well known today. Film collectors find it interesting because it marks Cary Grant's first screen appearance and because it is one of the few films of Lili Damita, a popular but heavily-accented French star. Her career fizzled quite quickly, but not before she appeared with stars like Gary Cooper and Laurence Olivier.
Fans of the pre-code era will enjoy this one quite a lot, as it is peppered with naughty jokes ("I was living in Cin–, I was Naughty.") and a running gag about Todd losing her clothes.
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