Although he’s underrated today, Frank Borzage was one of the most dependable and idealistic directors of Hollywood’s Golden Age. As one of the first directors to win multiple Academy Awards for Best Director, Borzage was also very devoted to the idea that “love conquers all”, and History is Made at Night is one of the best testaments to that ideal. Long unavailable for years since an initial VHS release in 1993, Criterion has brought the movie back into print with its inclusion in their vast collection in this brand new Blu-ray release.
The Production: 4.5/5
Tired of the bitter jealously and possessiveness of her shipping magnate husband Bruce (Colin Clive), Irene Vail (Jean Arthur) decides to divorce him and start over. However, Bruce has no intentions of letting Irene go, especially since there’s a loophole that can prevent the divorce from being finalized. In the midst of this tug of war enters Paul Dumond (Charles Boyer), a top waiter at the best restaurant in all of Paris, who ends up falling madly in love with Irene. But the road to true love is long and winding, and it spans the ocean between Europe and America while taking a few twists along the way; it’ll end up taking a headline making disaster to make everything right in the end.
Of all the movies Frank Borzage made and directed over his career, History is Made at Night is one that doesn’t fit comfortably in any one genre. On the surface, it appears to be a romantic comedy, but the script by Gene Towne and Graham Baker quickly turns that on its head. There’s elements of melodrama and early flashes of what would become film noir mixed in during the proceedings; also, thanks to the success of MGM’s San Francisco (1936), we’re also treated to a great climatic shipwreck that would predate the disaster thriller genre by several decades. Best of all, this unique brew of different genres is mixed together effectively without inducing whiplash during the film’s brisk running time. Throw in some solid performances by the cast and History is Made at Night is turned into one of the most underrated movies of the Golden Age of Hollywood, one that truly does have something for everyone.
Just a year before he achieved his Hollywood breakthrough in Algiers (1938), Charles Boyer gave one of his best performances as the lovestruck head waiter Paul; he was nominated for an Oscar four times and even received a Honorary Oscar in 1943 for “progressive cultural achievement”. Though best known for her work with Frank Capra, Jean Arthur also gives one of her best performances as the equally lovestruck Irene; she and Boyer have very palpable and convincing chemistry between them, which really sells the romance between their characters. The future Cisco Kid Leo Carrillo brings great comic relief as head chef and Paul’s friend Cesare while Colin Clive – Dr. Frankenstein in his penultimate film role due to his premature death from tuberculosis complications just three month after this film’s release – provides sneering menace as the jealously possessive Bruce. Familiar faces making an appearance here include Ivan Lebedeff as the Vail chauffeur involved with Bruce’s plan to stop Irene’s divorce (with disastrous results for him), George Meeker as an innocent bystander who nearly becomes the fall guy for the chauffeur’s death, George Davis as the Maestro, Lucien Prival as a private detective, an uncredited William Stack as Bruce’s attorney, and an uncredited Dennis O’Keefe as a restaurant patron.
3D Rating: NA
The movie is presented in its original 1:37:1 aspect ratio, taken from a new 4k digital transfer created from both a 35mm nitrate duplicate negative preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive and sections of a 35mm safety fine grain print. Film grain is organic, with fine details and gray scale all given a faithful representation here; there’s little to no instances of print damage, scratches, tears or dirt present here. For a movie that had never seen either a DVD or Blu-ray release until now, and considering that multiple sources were used for this transfer, the end result is simply amazing and easily the best the movie will ever look on home video; another exemplary job by the folks at Criterion.
The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a PCM track for this release. Dialogue, sound effects and the music score by Alfred Newman (credited here as musical director; uncredited as composer) are each given strong and faithful representations here with minimal to no cases of distortion, crackling, popping or hissing present. All in all, this is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video.
Special Features: 4/5
2018 conversation between film historians Hervé Dumont and Peter Cowie (23:53) – This program talks about Borzage’s use of different elements of different genres in this movie and how the movie fits in his larger oeuvre.
2019 interview with film historian Farran Smith Nehme (13:21) – In this archival interview recorded for The Criterion Channel, Nehme examines Borzage’s fascination with the power of love that made him unique even in his own time.
Audio excerpts from a 1958 interview with director Frank Borzage (30:47) – Conducted by the George Eastman House curator George Pratt, the director talks about his life and the making of the movie.
The Screen Guild Theater radio adaptation from 1940 (27:05) – Charles Boyer reprises his role from the movie here, with Greer Garson and Lionel Atwill filling in for Jean Arthur and the late Colin Clive respectively; this broadcast was also Garson’s radio debut in the US.
Restoration Demonstration (8:52)
Foldout feat. an essay by critic Don Callahan
A small hit at the box office during its initial run, History is Made at Night is a tantalizing mix of different genres that works as a whole – a feather in the cap of director Frank Borzage – and is very worthy of multiple viewings. Criterion has once again produced another gem of a Blu-ray disc, with a stellar HD transfer and a great slate of bonus features included. An early contender for best release for the label this year and very highly recommended.
Amazon.com: History is Made at Night (Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]: Charles Boyer, Jean Arthur, Leo Carrillo, Colin Clive, Ivan Lebedeff, George Meeker, Lucien Prival, George Davis, Frank Borzage: Movies & TV
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