Saturday, August 20, 2011

Whose night is it, anyway

Tomorrow, TCM is honoring Cary Grant as part of its annual Summer Under the Stars. The first of the Grant movies they're showing also happens to be the first one he made: This Is the Night, at 6:00 AM.

Cary Grant, only being a newcomer to the movies at this point, gets fifth billing. He plays Stephen Matthewson, a married man living in Paris who's about to head off to Los Angeles to compete in the 1932 Summer Olympics as a javelin thrower. His wife Claire (Thelma Todd) is happy that he's going across the ocean, as she's carrying on an affair with Gerald (Roland Young). However, she should have waited for Stephen to get on the boat before continuing her affair: she comes home one night with Gerald and finds that Stepehen is still there! Stephen's friend Bunny (Charlie Ruggles) knows about the affair, but tells Stephen that Gerald is actually married, and will be heading to Venice for a vacation with his wife.

Stephen still has time before he has to leave for Los Angeles, so he calls everybody's bluff, and arranges for two tickets from him and Claire to go to Venice as well and spend some time with Gerald and his wife. The problem, of course, is that Gerald doesn't actually have a wife, so he has to go find somebody who can pretend to be a wife. This he does with Germaine, played by French actress Lili Damita. Germaine naturally doesn't particularly care for Gerald, and while she doesn't actually have to share a bedroom with him or anything (this being the days when rich people rented entire hotel suites with multiple bedrooms), she finds that perhaps she'd rather not be in Venice at all....

This Is the Night is one of those early 1930s "comedies of lies", which is a genre I think I've mentioned I generally have a predisposition against. In such movies, the lead character gets himself into trouble with a lie, and rather then facing the reality that the truth will set him free, he makes matters worse for himself by compounding lie upon lie upon lie. So I personally find that a fair portion of the movie in Venice drags. And yet, Cary Grant is already excellent in his very first film. The rest of the actors are more than competent; in fact, the only problem is that the material their doing isn't my particular taste. Some people don't like war films; some don't like noir; I find the comedy of lies tedious. That having been said, if you don't mind such comedies, you'll probably love this movie. Especially for its opening sequence, in which Thelma Todd loses her dress. Seriously. But they could get away with it back in 1932 because it was before they were enforcing the Production Code.

This is the Night seems not to have gotten a DVD release, so you're going to have to catch it on TCM.

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