Saturday, March 23, 2024

Titanic (1937)

A couple of months back, TCM aired another new-to-me movie from the 1930s that sounded interesting, so I recorded it: History Is Made at Night. It's got another airing on TCM coming up, tomorrow (March 24) at 8:00 AM, so as always with upcoming movies, I made a point of watching it in order to be able to do a post on it.

Irene Vail (Jean Arthur) is married to Bruce (Colin Clive), owner of luxury liners and yachts, but it's an unhappy marriage as she's not up on deck with him as the movie begins. In fact, she's just written him a letter telling him that she's going to try to obtain a divorce, and that she wishes she'd never met him. With that in mind, she heads off to Paris for the mandatory separation, while he's left to lick his wounds.

Well, not quite. Bruce is insanely jealous, and convinced that the only reason Irene would leave him is because there's another man in the picture. And if his employees insist that there isn't, well, he's going to create one. With that in mind, he has detectives find out where Irene is, and then sends his chauffeur there to create a situation where it looks like Irene has been having an assignation with the chauffeur, thereby destroying Irene's chance of getting a favorable divorce.

But the surprise meeting doesn't go as planned. Irene unsurprisingly resists, and another man not related to her hears it. That man, Paul Dumond (Charles Boyer) is a maître d' at a fancy restaurant in Paris. He barges in, pretending to be a jewel thief to try to save Irene. He and the chauffeur get in a scuffle before Bruce comes in, Paul pretending to take some jewels to make the lie more convincing to Bruce.

The chauffeur was only knocked out in the scuffle but Bruce kills him, telling the police that it was Irene's new lover who did it. Meanwhile, Paul has taken Irene to his restaurant for a meal, and the two fall in love. So when Irene shows back up at her hotel, she finds the chauffeur dead and that Bruce has made it appear that Paul is the guilty party in a way that nobody will be able to convince the authorities otherwise. Bruce uses this to blackmail Irene into going back to New York with him.

Eventually, Paul discovers Irene's real identity, that she's married to a wealthy man in New York, and heads across the Atlantic with his head chef Cesare (Leo Carrillo) to try to find Irene. He gets a job as maître d' at a fancy New York restaurant after saving it from bad business decisions, and sets out trying to do something to get Irene to discover the restaurant, since he doesn't know where in New York she is.

Unfortunately, Bruce learns that the police have found the man they're looking for, or the man they think murdered the chauffeur, even though we know it's neither Paul nor the actual killer. But Bruce is again able to use this to find Irene and blackmail her. Either she goes to Paris to save her lover, agreeing in the process to stay with Bruce, or her lover gets the guillotine. Bruce celebrates by taking her out to dinner, which just happens to be at Paul's restaurant.

So why have I titled this post "Titanic (1937)"? Bruce heads to Paris on the Hindenburg, since one of his ships is going to be trying to break the transatlantic speed record, and he wants to be in Le Havre to meet the ship. Irene takes the boat, with Paul following going with her to testify at the trial. And when Bruce finds out the truth about Irene's lover, he's perfectly willing to have his ship hit an iceberg!

History Is Made at Night is an interesting movie, although I had a problem with the severe plot hole that accompanies the climax of the movie. After the Titanic sank, rules were changed in order to make certain all transatlantic liners would have sufficient lifeboats for everybody on board. So the idea that anybody would be forced to stay on board for lack of space in the lifeboats is totally wrong. But the rest of the movie is pretty darn good, being an interesting mix of romantic drama, disaster movie, and some noirish elements even though noir wasn't really a concept back in 1937.

Boyer and Arthur make an appealing romantic couple, and Clive, who died much too young not long after this movie, is quite good as the nasty jealous husband. It's one that got a DVD release from Criterion and doesn't show up very often on TCM, so now is a good time to watch it.

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