Midnight (1939)
Midnight (1939)

Genre: Screwball Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 34 min.

Release Date: March 24th, 1939 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Mitchell Leisen Actors: Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore, Francis Lederer, Mary Astor, Elaine Barrie, Hedda Hopper, Rex O’Malley, Monty Woolley

 


 

A

rriving in Paris penniless (with only the gold dress on her back) and sans luggage, third-class railway passenger Eve Peabody (Claudette Colbert) stumbles upon Hungarian cabdriver Tibor Czerny (Don Ameche), who, against his better judgment, gives her a lift out of the torrential downpour. Hoping to make it big as an American blues singer (after losing all of her worldly possessions at a Monte Carlo roulette table), she tries auditioning at local pubs, but has no luck. Giving up and asking to be taken back to the train station, Czerny insists upon buying her dinner beforehand. As they exchange small talk, he realizes that she’s an unsuccessful gold digger of questionable moral intentions, desiring to get rich by doing nothing; and she realizes he’s a carefree soul with no ambitions, living paycheck to paycheck.

Once again trying to abandon a decent but financially limited guy, Eve ditches Tibor and randomly sneaks into a decadent party for the grossly overprivileged Stephanie (Hedda Hopper). At the luxurious gathering, she’s introduced to the “dangerous” educated boxer Jacques Picot (Francis Lederer) and Helene (Mary Astor), the seductress he’s secretly seeing. But Helene is married to Georges Flammarion (John Barrymore), an older, wiser man well aware of his wife’s fling. Donning a subterfuge as the Baroness of Czerny, Eve is shocked to discover that not only does she have a suite at the Ritz, but also brand new matching luggage and a chauffeur named Ferdinand. Although she initially thinks she’s gone crazy, she quickly realizes that Georges has set up the ruse with the intention of using Eve to distract Jacques just long enough for Helene to come to her senses and return to her husband. Meanwhile, Tibor organizes the taxis of Paris to scour the city in search of his missing Eve.

It’s a rather classic case of mistaken identity, elaborated by writer Billy Wilder’s expertise with hilariously escalating lies that build to a tumultuous climax. When one fabrication is foiled, several more are spontaneously invented, to quickly repair the damage and save the day. Heralding the scripts for “Ball of Fire,” “The Major and the Minor,” and even “Some Like It Hot,” this consistently lighthearted comic caper sets up nail-biting instances of hilariously uncomfortable confrontations. Destiny and fate desperately work against the stresses on love in times of pauperism, which persuade Eve to have a change of heart. For her, being a crook is a more difficult hoax than being honest.

“You’ve got to get a divorce from a man you’re not even married to?” screams Tibor when he realizes his true love is about to slip through his fingers. From a weekend party in Versailles to a strictly overseen courtroom to an unruly breakfast gathering (involving a particularly uproarious, faked phone conversation), several stages are smartly set for disorderly battles of the sexes (flourished with witty verbal catfights). “Midnight” is a somewhat forgotten screwball comedy classic, combining likably raffish characters with side-splitting dialogue and a snazzy finale, though it is significant (perhaps memorably so) for its stepping-stone position as a project that would inspire Wilder to assume the director’s chair after romantic-comedy filmmaker Mitchell Leisen made too many disagreeable alterations.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10