Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche are John Barrymore's parents in... Midnight (1939)
the other posts. You wouldn't want to upset Mr. Wilder, would you?
my list of my favorite Wilder films, I egregiously left out Midnight. How could I, you say? My weak defense is that I wrote the list months before I published it, before I ever watched the masterpiece that is Midnight. I mean, my goodness, it has Claudette Colbert, Mary Astor, Francis Lederer, and John Barrymore in my favorite performance of his. And did I mention Don freaking Ameche? I've said it once, I'll say it again: I love Ameche. LOVE. No Ameche haters are allowed here. Now that I've probably alienated some of you, let's get this Wilder lovefest started.
He had been sleeping, but the commotions Eve caused intrigued him. He makes the best faces while he studies her. The party's hostess, Stephanie (Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper), announces to the guests that there's an intruder amongst them, a Ms. Eve Peabody (the pawn ticket wasn't such a foolproof plan). Georges eyes Eve as he's connected the dots, but she plays innocent. Thinking that she's been found out when a man comes up to her and lures her from the other guests, she's relieved to see that he just needed a fourth member for a bridge game. The other players include Jacques Picot (Francis Lederer), a leech who loves wooing married women, and Helene Flammarion (Mary Astor), Georges's wife and one of those women that Jacques is wining and dining. The man who recruited Eve is Helene's best friend, Marcel (Rex O'Malley).
As they all leave, Jacques insists on taking Eve to her hotel, the Ritz. She tries to get him to leave, but he won't until he sees her right to her room. So with dread, she tells her name to the desk clerk. Ah yes, her reservation is right here! Then Jacques puts her key in the door. She's actually able to go in! She tells Jacques goodnight and immediately believes that there's been some mistake. But her huge hotel suite is empty, so what's a girl to do but go to bed and worry about it tomorrow?
Looking handsome in a tuxedo, Tibor passes himself off as the baron to Eve's baroness, assuaging Helene's suspicions and keeping Georges's plan intact. Eve, however, is not so relieved. What the hell is Tibor doing? It's simple: he just wants Eve. He almost convinces her to go back to Paris with him, but she admits that she's finally getting a passage to the upper class and a wealthy soon-to-be fiance (because let's face it, Jacques is putty in her delicate little hands). Tibor is furious that she doesn't think love is enough, and she's furious that he doesn't understand where she's coming from. They end the night in separate rooms.
When he wakes up, Eve says she's ready to leave with him. She doesn't want Jacques or the fancy clothes or the parties. But Tibor isn't satisfied. The damage has been done. Eve gets so mad, she threatens to "divorce" him so she can be free to marry Jacques. Tibor tells her to go right ahead, landing them in court some days later. The judge (Monty Woolley) orders them to spend 15 minutes in a room alone together before he'll grant their divorce, a divorce that Tibor states he won't contest to Eve's dismay.
Cameron Crowe's Conversations with Wilder is invaluable and filled to the brim with insights and information from the great Mr. Wilder.When Crowe asked Wilder what was the best film Mitchell Leisen directed based on one of his scripts, Wilder named Midnight, which also turned out to be Claudette Colbert's favorite film. He then tells a little anecdote about his first (and only) meeting with Don Ameche, which years later the actor didn't remember and couldn't believe that he starred in Midnight. The film's producer, Arthur Hornblow Jr. introduced Ameche and Barrymore as Wilder and Charles Brackett stood there. When Hornblow asked Barrymore if he knew Ameche, Barrymore wickedly replied "Of course he knows me, we're sleeping with each other!"
Wilder admitted that the picture and Ameche were great, slyly adding that it was because "Barrymore was too drunk to write his own scenes" (200). The director liked Leisen's work too, but he remarked that Leisen hated having the writers' input during shooting -- he went so far as to have a policeman bar Wilder from the set! Leisen took to revising lines and dropping ideas without asking the writers, something that incensed Wilder and increased his motivation to become a director himself so he could control his own scripts.
T: "I know we're right for each other. I know it deep down in my bones, don't you?"
E: "That's why I didn't accept that room of yours."
T: "There were no strings on that. I was driving all night."
E:"I know that... I would've awakened in the morning and ironed that shirt of yours, and then I would've waited around to thank you."
T: "And I would've asked you to marry me."
E: "I probably would have. Don't you see? We would have had a few grand weeks and a lot of laughs... And then all of a sudden, the walls of that one room would've started crowding in on us."
T: "Yeah, I know that story. When you're poor, love flies out the window."
E: "Well, I saw it happen with my mother and father. So many worries and quarrels, and they just gave up. They didn't even hate each other."
T: "I suppose love is safer in a place like this!"
T: "She's not a baroness... She's an American golddigger I picked up in Paris less than a week ago... There was something about her nose, and the way the raindrops trickled down from that newspaper."
T: "Yes, she was wearing one instead of a hat! She twisted me around her finger in two minutes; I was crazy about her. She made me think that she felt the same way about me, until she remembered she had other fish to fry -- fish like you! Gold fish!"
here. I think Midnight is a much better and funnier showcase. I crack up every time Georges impersonates Tibor's "mother" and "Francie" on the telephone. It's so bizarre and goofy, especially when you consider that only Eve and Tibor can hear what he's saying, so the voices really aren't necessary:
Georges as Mother: "It was just a case of alcohol poisoning. The baby must have had one highball too many. She was out all night. We picked her up in the gutter."
Eve in front of everyone: "Oh, how cute of her! Oh, she loves it so."
Barrymore was in very bad shape during production. Despite his drinking and ill health, it sounds like he still remained fairly sharp, with Mary Astor commenting that he was still able to "act rings around everyone else." Midnight would be one of his last films. Throughout filming, he either refused to learn his lines or he couldn't retain them, so cue cards were used. I never noticed this until it was pointed out to me; it's really only apparent in the scene where he and Eve are nursing an unconscious Tibor, but unless you're looking for it, I don't think you would notice. There's a snapshot of it above.
The script is also aware that it's a retelling of the Cinderella fairy tale. I mean, its title is Midnight, referring to Eve's line that "Every Cinderella has her midnight." Georges is clearly supposed to be the fairy godfather. I think Tibor as the prince is Wilder's way of messing with the expectation--instead of a wealthy, handsome man in a crisp tuxedo, Eve gets a rough, leather jacket-wearing, working class man who only wears a tux if it's rented. Early in the film, when Tibor tells Eve he's buying her dinner as he opens the taxi door for her, she wryly says "Oh, this is a pumpkin coach and you're the fairy godmother?" Wilder seemed to have a thing for fairy tales. Sabrina is another definite Cinderella story (which I talk about here), and Ball of Fire is a take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Midnight also shares a similar plot to the Preston Sturges-penned and Leisen-directed Easy Living (1937) and Ginger Rogers's Fifth Avenue Girl (1939), although all three films are pretty different when you consider them individually.
|Love the framing here as Eve watches the bellboy unpack her trunk.|
|Helene admits to Jacques that she's become jealous of Eve. Check out those furry sleeves!|
|Crossing her fingers that all goes well.|
|Helene and Marcel are chomping at the bit to hear Eve dish about Tibor's illness.|
|Great reactions from everyone as they try to appease Tibor so he won't get violent.|
|"Where are you two going?" "To get married!" "Oh... What?!"|
Happy birthday, Mr. Wilder!