Classic Film Review – Midnight (1939)

“Don’t forget, every Cinderella has her midnight.”

This quote perfectly sums up the title of the screwball comedy, Midnight.

SUMMARY

In the opening scene, a train arrives in Paris with a glamorously dressed woman sleeping on a bench in one of the cars. Upon awakening, she arises, grabs her evening bag and steps off of the train into the rain with no luggage. Eve  Peabody quickly explains to the porter that she left her belongings in a pawn shop in Monte Carlo.

As she leaves the train station, she is accosted by taxi drivers offering her a ride which she can’t afford. One in particular seems sympathetic to her plight, so she arranges a deal with him to drive her around town to look for a job. Once she secures one, she will pay him double the rate she owes.

Love at first sight

After Tibor Czerny agrees and spends part of his evening helping her she is no closer to securing a job and the taxi meter is climbing higher. But Eve is in luck, because Tibor is kind and has fallen in love with her at first sight, even though she admits that her long-term plan is to marry wealth. She’s a charming and honest gold-digger.

Eve Peabody: [Discussing her career as a gold-digger] I landed a lord, almost.

Tibor Czerny: Almost?

Eve Peabody: Well, the family came between us. His mother came to my hotel and offered me a bribe.

Tibor Czerny: You threw her out, I hope!

Eve Peabody: How could I, with my hands full of money?

Not wanting to take advantage of him or to feed their mutual attraction, she escapes and manages to wander into a society party in the only thing she owns, her gold evening gown. She passes off her pawn ticket as a party invite to the oblivious major domo.

Once inside, she sinks into an open seat to rest her tired body, but the party is disturbed by the announcement that an unwanted guest has somehow managed to sneak in. The man sitting next to her notices her and keeps sending studying glances her way.

Suspicious mind

Meanwhile, Tibor, wanting to track down his mysterious, missing passenger arranges for a money pool with the other taxi drivers, promising the winnings to whomever manages to locate his runaway love.

Things really begin to get crazy when Eve is drawn into a high stakes card game, and gives her alias as the Baroness Czerny. She loses, but finds herself with an unexpected benefactor -the man who was watching her earlier and has figured out her secret. You see, his wife is in love with a playboy who can’t seem to take his eyes off Eve.  Wealthy Mr. Flammarion offers Eve a way to kill two birds with one stone. He will back her story, cover all of her expenses and provide her with a personal line of credit if she will use her wiles to seduce the playboy away from his wife. They both will benefit. Flammarion will have his wife back and Eve will have landed a rich husband.

Striking a deal

But things, don’t always go according to plan and in a screwball comedy, you can count on the most ridiculous and incredible occurences throwing more than a few curve balls into said plan.

REVIEW

I have finally learned that comedy and screwball comedy in particular is my favorite film genre. Midnight is not as well known as some other screwball titles, but it has quickly become one of my favorites.

Outstanding performances by lead actors Claudette Colbert (Eve Peabody) Don Ameche (Tibor Czerny) and John Barrymore (Flammarion, yes, this Barrymore is Drew’s grandfather) make this film shine. I’ve seen other pictures by all three actors. I wouldn’t say that any of them are particular favorites, but together, with this story, in this film, they are magic.

Like most films in this genre, the dialogue is quick-paced and characterized by witty repartee. The humor in Midnight, continues to build and grow, until the last third of the film had me laughing to tears. Eve’s quick thinking lies to explain her “husband’s” (remember she borrowed his last name) appearance when he finally tracks her down are outrageous, yet she sells them so well.

It is the role of Don Ameche’s Czerny simply to react to Eve’s statements and actions. Somehow, he manages to make me believe that he really fell in love at first sight with an admittedly broke gold digger. All he wants is to convince her that they belong together, while Eve fights her attraction to him until the bitter end, convinced that money will make her happy. I mean, who hasn’t had that internal battle before? That is what makes Eve a sympathetic character. She owns up to the truth about herself, even when it is unpleasant.

 

All’s well that ends well

John Barrymore has a plum role as Flammarion, the catalyst for Eve’s Cinderella story. (FYI, Mary Astor who plays Helene Flammarion had been engaged in a torrid love affair with Barrymore years before.) By this time, he was only three years away from death to his alcoholism and could no longer remember his lines. But his immense and well-respected talent was such that the studios still hired him for parts, because he was the great John Barrymore. They just managed to work around his penchant for drunkenness. Even at that, he still pulled off a credible performance that looks like he was having the time of his life.

CONCLUSION

Midnight is a ridiculously funny film and a good example of what is classified as screwball comedy. If you don’t mind having the bounds of believability stretched and are looking for a good laugh, I highly recommend this gem. It is available on DVD and streaming on many platforms including Amazon, iTunes, YouTube and others.

 

 

 

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