The two holiday weeks are equal parts stressful and fun. There’s family and hordes of food, but there’s also time for movies.
My favorite part of the holiday season here in Los Angeles is the schedule at the American Cinematheque. For those outside of the Los Angeles bubble, the American Cinematheque is a screening organization which shows classic or “alternative” films. They show films at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and also at the Aero in Santa Monica.
During the holidays, they tend to show popular films, the ones that will sell out when people are off work and actually have the time to go to the movies. Die Hard and It’s a Wonderful Life are the christmas staples, but what I look forward to most is those first few screenings in the new year when they highlight 30s and 40s screwball comedies.
This year, on the second night of their screwball comedy tribute, they showed a double feature of Midnight (1939) and Remember the Night (1940). I had seen Midnight before, but it had been a while. I knew I liked it, but couldn’t remember the particulars. In this second viewing, I was blown away at how modern and hilarious it was. The audience was totally connected to the story and the characters.
For a little background, Midnight stars Claudette Colbert as Eve Peabody, a nightclub singer who arrives in Paris without a cent to her name. Straight off the train, she meets Tibor Chemny (Don Ameche), a taxi driver who falls in love with her at first sight.
However, Eve, scared of her feelings for Tibor, runs away, right into a high class soiree happening nearby where she meets Georges Flammarion (John Barrymore…Yes, he’s Drew’s great-grandfather)….
Georges sets his eyes on Eve when he sees that his wife’s (Mary Astor) lover, Jacques Piqot, played by Frances Lederer is interested in Eve. Georges tells Eve he’ll foot all her bills if she pretends to be a baroness and steals away Jacques from his wife. As if there is not enough problems, the taxi driver then comes back in and Eve does everything to protect her story, piling lie upon lie.
Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett penned the script while Mitchell Leisen directed. It really was a dream team in a lot of respects, especially considering that Barrymore died only two short years later. However, the making of the film was slightly tumultuous as Leisen apparently liked to change dialogue. This enraged Wilder and led him to direct his own scripts from then on.
Midnight is light and tremendously fun. Ameche’s role is very much something Gable would have done. He’s gruffly lovable and we all watch hoping Eve and Tibor can make it work. But, Barrymore really steals the show, taking advantage of every moment he’s on screen.
It’s the perfect movie for those lazy winter days, especially when rain attacks Los Angeles and all you want to do is watch old movies and drink hot cocoa….or maybe that’s just me. Either way, I think you’ll enjoy it.
Vintage trailer below: