*N.B. I have the worst copy of this film in the world, hence the horrifying screen caps.
Aaaaaaaand I’m back! Sorry for the radio silence. I would make my excuses, but they would be just that: excuses. Plus, this is my blog, so I don’t have to. Ha! In any event, I was inspired to write about this film for two reasons: 1.) Jean Arthur’s character is named Irene, and we were just visited by a lovely lady who was similarly christened (thanks, Mother Nature!). 2.) Awhile back, Dana Delany tweeted about it. At the time, I was so knocked out because I’ve never heard anyone mention this film before. Ever. Which is a shame, because it is really a wonderful, forgotten little gem. Obviously Dana is a woman of good taste!
Frank Borzage’s History Is Made At Night is interesting in many contexts, not the least of which is that of Jean Arthur’s career trajectory. It was released the same year as Easy Living (1937), that imitable classic of 30s screwball comedy which we have already discussed. Yet for Arthur, it represents an entirely different challenge, one that she rises to admirably and which enriches her resume beyond the comedic archetype that modern cinephiles so narrowly remember her by.
Arthur’s Irene Vail is the abused wife of millionaire ocean liner magnate Bruce Vail (Colin Clive). Violently possessive, Vail is a man who sees perceived betrayal in Irene’s every move and treats her as if she were one of his ships; an empty vessel whose sole purpose is to be filled with the reflection of his desires. When Irene finally decides to leave her husband, she runs away to Paris (cinematic city of dreams!), with Vail in dogged pursuit. There, he concocts a scheme to forestall the divorce settlement by orchestrating a fake rendezvous between her and his valet.
Unfortunately for Vail, an interloper by the name of Paul Dumond (Charles Boyer) stumbles upon the scene, and in order to save the damsel in distress, stages a robbery undercover of which he spirits Irene away. Outwitted, Vail kills the valet and plots to frame Paul, whom he rightly suspects is no thief, and wrongly assumes is his wife’s lover. From this tragedy, the romantic spectacle at hand is born. . .