One of my favorite movie titles is also, as Andrew Sarris has said, probably the most romantic title in pictures, and names a film directed by an Italian-American from Salt Lake City who is responsible for several of the most intensely affecting love stories made: Frank Borzage’s 1937 European triangle tale, HistoryIsMadeatNight [Tuesday, Nov. 9, American Movie Classics,Channel54,3:30P.M.;alsoon videocassette] . Starring France’s biggestAmericanscreenstar, Charles Boyer, and Frank Capra’s “favorite actress,” Jean Arthur, the story is set in Paris and on a doomed ocean liner-inspired by the Titanic calamity. (Surely someone involved with the recent Titanic saw this, because there are certain plot similarities.)
Withsoft-focusdexterity,Borzage (pronounced Bor- zay -gie) guides the piece from light-comedy romance-betweena high-class Par-isianmaîtred’andanunhappily
married American lady-into deep-dish melodrama, as the woman desperately tries to get away from her maniacally possessive husband. As usual with Borzage, it is the complete sincerity of his belief in true love as having the power to triumph overeverything,includingdeath
and probability, that helps give the picture such charm and intensity. Equally responsible is the extraordinarily personable quality of the two stars. History Is Made at Night was one of Charles Boyer’s first successes, released the year before he became enshrined in every impersonator’s act with the line, “Come wiz me to ze Casbah,” which Boyer (as Pepe le Moko) sort of said in 1938′s Algiers . (His persona also inspired Chuck Jones’ amorouscartoonskunk,PepelePew.) After this, Boyer’s superb performances in popular pictures like Leo McCarey’s comedy-drama LoveAffair ,orJohn Stahl’s weepy When Tomorrow Comes , propelled the Frenchman to the upper ranks of American stardom. In 1944, he was nominated for the best actor Oscar for his brilliant portrayal of a suave murderer in George Cukor’s suspenseful Gaslight . Working almost continually until his suicide in 1978 at age 81-two days after the death of his beloved wife-Boyer appeared in at least two other masterworks: Ernst Lubitsch’s final romantic comedy, Cluny Brown , and perhaps Max Ophuls’ greatest achievement, the tragic love story Madame de …
John Ford was not only the first to cast Jean Arthur in a movie (1923′s Cameo Kirby ), but the first to cast her in the kind ofgirl-next-door,light-comedyrole (1935′s The Whole Town’s Talking ) she would play throughout most of her subsequent career. By the time she did History Is Made at Night , Frank Capra had made her his archetypal heroine in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town , solidifying the image with his Mr. Smith Goes to Washington . Her raspy voice became as famous as Boyer’s deep-toned French accent. She was Oscar-nominated asbestactressforGeorgeStevens’ war-time comedy The More the Merrier , andconcludedherpicturecareer
in Stevens’ acclaimed 1953 Western, Shane .
reached the peak of his prestige at the transition from silent to sound with two Academy Awardsasbestdirector:foroneof movies’ most popular love stories, Seventh Heaven (1927), and for the early talkie, Bad Girl (1931). Beginning his career as an actor at age 13, he was directing a decade later, making his first important film at age 27 with Humoresque (1920)-a romance, of course. Although Borzage continued working until the late 1950′s, his most valuable sound decade was the 1930′s, which included his emotional version of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes, the Depression-era classic Man’s Castle with Spen-cer Tracy and Loretta Young, the
Lubitsch-produced romantic comedy Desire with Cooper and Marlene
Dietrich, and his last successful romance classic, The Mortal Storm , with Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart. If any one title could represent the ardent, passionate world of Bor-zage, it’s either History Is Made at Night or Seventh Heaven -that special place reserved only for lovers.