“MIDNIGHT” ( 1939 )
After hearing so much about this movie from fellow classic film fans, and being an ardent supporter of John Barrymore, I was eager to see it. A few weeks later I stumbled across the film at my favorite DVD shop, and knew that I had to purchase a copy, but being friends with the store owner, I received it for free.
“Midnight” is a classic Screwball Comedy starring Claudette Colbert, John Barrymore, Don Ameche and Mary Astor. The film was written for the screen by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, and based on a story by Edwin Justus Mayer and Franz Schulz, with direction by Mitchell Leisen. The film was set to receive major encomium right from the start.
The film tells the story of Eve Peabody, ( Claudette Colbert ), an American showgirl who arrives in Paris on a train from Monte Carlo. When she reaches her destination, Paris is hailed down by a rainstorm. Eve is penniless, and has no place to stay or any luggage except the clothes on her back. While wandering the cold, rainy streets of Paris, she encounters Tibor Czerny, ( Don Ameche ), an Hungarian taxi driver, who offers to chauffeur her around to the nightclubs in Paris to look for a job in exchange for her doubling his fare. Realizing Eve’s current situation, Tibor shouts her dinner at a local restaurant, and offers her accommodation in his apartment. Cognizant of the fact that Tibor Czerny is infatuated by her, Eve tries to elude him, and is successful in doing so when he makes a gas stop. With the heavy rain, she searches for somewhere to seek shelter. Further down the street there is a black tie classical concert event happening, so Eve quietly sneaks in, using her pawn ticket that she received in Monte Carlo as her admission card.
At the concert she finds a seat next to Georges Flammarion, ( John Barrymore ), who keeps a watchful eye on Eve during the duration of the concert. Minutes later Eve is intercepted and is ushered off to the card room to participate in a game of bridge with Georges Flammarion’s wife Helene Flammarion ( Mary Astor ) and Jacques Picot ( Francis Lederer ), where she introduces herself as Baroness Czerny. The fun begins when Georges enters the room and places ten thousand franks in her wallet after he engages himself in a conversation with the Baroness about her life in Budapest. When the game is over, Jacques insists on escorting her back to the Ritz, where she told them she was staying. On her arrival she is surprised to discover that Georges has reserved a commodious and lavish suite for her at the Ritz. The next morning suitcases full of luggage bearing expensive clothing arrives for the Baroness at her suite. Eve is confounded until Georges enters her room and invites her to the Flammarion estate in Versailles for the weekend, where Eve will masquerade as Baroness Czerny in order to steal Jacques away from his wife Helene who are secretly having an affair.
In the meantime, Tibor sets up a search with his fellow taxi drivers to find Eve, so a plethora of taxi drivers scatter the streets of Paris in search for the missing showgirl. It doesn’t take long until she is spotted dissimulating herself as the Baroness Czerny.
As the film rolls on, Eve is thrown into some difficult situations with the roof about to cave in on her. Helene is suspicious when she elicits the truth about the Baroness, and unearths that the Baroness Czerny maybe an imposture.
“Midnight” is classified as a Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche vehicle, but to me the main focal point of the movie is John Barrymore. He brings out all the laughs in the film, and his commendable portrayal of Georges Flammarion is a delight to watch from start to finish. John Barrymore’s presence on the screen is enough to hold the entire film up without the help from the rest of the cast. He is simply inimitable in every role he has played.
Claudette Colbert is also superb as well in her portrayal of Eve Peabody, but she is even more culminating when she masquerades around as the Baroness Czerny. I’ve never been a fan of Don Ameche, but I feel that he was perfectly cast in this movie. The actor though that I give the most credit to is John Barrymore. At this stage in his career he had to read off cue cards. It’s astonishing to think that he was still the highlight of the picture even though he relied on cue cards to carry him through. This was Barrymore’s last great effort at creating a truly endearing comic character, and his performance was flawless.
The entire movie is spectacular. It’s witty, sophisticated, zany, and sparkling with humor. “Midnight” is an hellacious Screwball Comedy not to be missed.
When John Barrymore was cast, it was well known that his alcoholism would necessitate some accommodation. This accounted for the presence in the cast of his young wife, Elaine Barrie. When he could not remember some of his lines, they were written out on blackboards just off camera, and both his irascibility and sense of humor were well in evidence. At one point one of the female assistants on the set went into the ladies room, only to be confronted with the sight of Barrymore, his back turned, relieving himself. “You can’t be here,” she protested, “it’s just for ladies.” He turned around and retorted, “So’s this!”
When Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett turned in their script, the studio liked it, but felt it needed some work. The writers they hired to rewrite the script were: Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. The studio sent them their own script to rewrite without knowing it. Wilder and Brackett simply retyped their original script and the studio loved the “rewrites” so much, they produced it with no further “changes”.
Quotes from film:
Eve Peabody: “When I married, I didn’t realize that in the Czerny family there was a streak of… shall we say, eccentricity? And yet, I had warning. Why else should his grandfather have sent me, as an engagement present, one roller skate – covered with Thousand Island dressing?”
Jacques Picot: [Shocked] “What?”
Georges Flammarion: “Of course, of course I’d forgotten! The Czerny’s are all like that. You know, I met an old aunt – the Countess Antonia. I thought she was an Indian. It turned out, that she used paprika instead of face powder.”
Georges Flammarion: “The ground has just opened under our feet.”
Eve Peabody: “Well… and me all set to jump for that tub of butter.”
Georges Flammarion: “We’ve landed in something, all right, but it’s not butter.”
Eve Peabody: “Here they come.”
Georges Flammarion: “I’ll stand by you as best I can.”
Helene Flammarion: “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have a word, please. I want to tell you something which I think will both interest and amuse you. Under our roof tonight, we have, as a guest, a person claiming one of the oldest names in the Almanach de Gotha.”
Helene Flammarion: “I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Hungarian aristocracy, but let me assure you that in all middle Europe there is no family…”
Claudette Colbert: Born Emilie Chauchoin on September 13th, 1903 in Saint-Mande, France. Died: July 30th, 1996 in Speightstown, Barbados. Aged 92.
John Barrymore: Born John Sidney Blyth on February 15th, 1882 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Died: May 29th, 1942 in Los Angeles, California. Aged 60.