Having heard of History Is Made At Night (1937) for years, I was always under the impression that it was a screwball comedy. After all it starred one of the screwball queens, Jean Arthur during the height of the genres popularity. From things read in passing, I knew it had some comic elements and romance was involved. Come to find out after finally seeing it, History Is Made At Night is not a screwball comedy at all and in fact, hard to categorize. It's a romantic drama, with comedic flourishes, a truly sinister villain and a disaster movie, with a touch of noir, all rolled into one. That's alot to chew on I know, but with leads Charles Boyer, the always charming Arthur and skilled director Frank Borzage at the helm, the final product is seamless.
Bruce Vail (Colin Clive) is an uber-wealthy shipping magnate who also happens to be an uber-possessive control freak over his wife, Irene (Arthur). His constant harassment about a would be "other man" in her life, drives her to the breaking point and she files for divorce. On the eve of the final decree, having found no evidence of infidelity on her part (since there was absolutely none to find), Vail contrives a scheme to plant his chauffeur in her apartment then bust in on them with a detective in tow, in order to nullify the proceedings. When the chauffeur tries to enact the sordid plan in Irene's swank Paris digs, the scene is witnessed by Paul Dumond (Boyer) on the neighboring balcony. He realizes what is happening and enters through the balcony door and pops the chauffeur across the kisser, knocking him cold, just as the bewildered husband and company charge into the darkened room. Acting as an intruder, so as not to trade one divorce correspondent for another, Paul takes Irene's jewels and then Irene herself as hostage.
Once the twosome are safely away, Paul explains himself and tells Irene he only "kidnapped" her to return her jewels. He then takes her to a fine Parisian restaurant, where he is the head waiter. There he wines and dines her and generally sweeps her off her feet. When she arrives back at her apartment, she is met by her husband and the police. You see, ever the suspicious cuss, husband Bruce believed the intruder was indeed the "other man" in his wife's life, so he killed the chauffeur in order to blackmail his wife into going back to America with him. Lunatic! In exchange, he would let her "lover" escape a murder charge. To save her newly found love from Vail's diabolical plan, she agrees. Paul, the head waiter supreme, then reads in the newspaper that the high profile couple is sailing for New York and follows his lady love across the Atlantic. Vail instigates more shenanigans in an attempt to keep his wife under his thumb and the whole film leads to a thrilling climax aboard the Princess Irene, a luxury liner owned by the demented shipping tycoon. Many shades of the Titanic come through in the latter portion of the film and it is truly an edge of your seat spectacle.
The director, Frank Borzage, was a master at the kind of romance displayed in History Is Made At Night. His sensitive, delicate direction shows a powerful love between his lead characters and the evil they face against the unbalanced Clive. When classic movie lovers think of Colin Clive, they immediately think of his turn in the two classic Universal horror flicks, Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). The role of the obsessed Dr. F made him immortal in the horror genre of film history but outside that genre, he is much less celebrated. He did, however, make several films outside the horror box before he died of pneumonia, exacerbated by acute alcoholism, in 1937 at the age of 37. History Is Made At Night, released three months before his death, was one of his very last roles and he pulls out all the creepy stops. Leo Carrillo is also notable as Chef Cesare, Boyer's friend and companion to America.
As for Boyer and Arthur, both were almost at their career peak when History was filmed. Arthur, whose repartee is not as snappy and defiant as it is in some of her Frank Capra collaborations, is still effervescent in her lighter scenes with Boyer. Not particularly alluring or glamorous, she emotes with that pixie-like personality and unforgettable husky voice. Never a huge fan of Charles Boyer, I can certainly appreciate his fine performance in this picture as well as others made later in his career, like Hold Back the Dawn (1941) and Gaslight (1944). His demeanor is as suave as his voice is silky smooth. Not the traditional romantic movie pairing, he and Arthur are superb together. Romance. Drama. Comedy. Suspense. Disaster. All are incorporated and tempered with great direction and performances to make History Is Made At Night a must see.