Midnight (1939): Mitchel Leisen’s Charming Screwball Comedy, Starring Claudette Colbert and John Barrymore

The charming screwball comedy “Midnight” is the first collaboration between director Mitchell Leisen and screenwriters Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder.

Our Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

Midnight
Midnight (1939 film one-sheet poster).jpg

Theatrical release poster

The trio also teamed for the making of the 1941 Oscar-nominated “Hold Back the Dawn,” starring Charles Boyer and Olivia De Havilland, before Wilder became a director on his own.

The film merges Brackett and Wilder’s penchant for repartee and masquerade with Leisen’s flair for high style and sophisticated comedy. An openly gay director, Leisen began his career as a costume designer, and his love for fashion and art design shows in most of his films.

Claudette Colbert, at the height of her popularity, plays the American girl, Eve Peabody, a former-showgirl, who’s forced to impersonate Hungarian royalty in order to infiltrate the Parisian jet set.

The comedy begins during a midnight rainstorm as Eve arrives penniless at Paris’ Gare de L’Est, owning only the gold lamé gown on her back. She immediately attracts the attention of Hungarian cab driver Tibor Czerny (Don Ameche), but walks out on their budding romance.

Eve is determined to no longer make the mistake of dating for love as she’s desperate for money. Indeed, she finds shelter from the downpour by crashing a socialite’s late-night soirée using a pawn ticket and a pseudonym, the Baroness Czerny (the cabdriver’s surname).

While there, Eve meets the aristocrat Georges Flammarion (John Barrymore, at the end of his career), who entices her with a place in society if she agrees to remain disguised as the Baroness and seduce his wife’s playboy lover.

Complications abound when Tibor Czerny is still searching for Eve. When he locates her whereabouts and discovers the fact that she is using his name, Tibor decides to also travel to the Flammarion estate. His goal is to win back Eve, and to pose as her husband, the Baron.
What ensues is a quintessentially witty and amusing screwball comedy, full of deception, love, quadruple entendre, and outright farce.

For many, “Midnight,” truly a chic fairytale, represents the climax of Leisen’s career. The cast is superb, with the exception of Don Ameche, who is too stiff and earnest for his part.

Credits:

Directed by Mitchell Leisen
Produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.
Screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, based on a story by Edwin Justus Mayer, Franz Schulz

Music by Frederick Hollander
Cinematography Charles Lang
Edited by Doane Harrison

Production and distribution: paramount Pictures

Release date: March 15, 1939

Running time: 94 minutes

 

Cast

Claudette Colbert as Eve Peabody
Don Ameche as Tibor Czerny
John Barrymore as Georges Flammarion
Francis Lederer as Jacques Picot
Mary Astor as Helene Flammarion
Elaine Barrie as Simone
Hedda Hopper as Stephanie
Rex O’Malley as Marcel Renaud
Monty Woolley as The Judge