(USA 1940 113m) DVD2 (Spain only)
In Paris with Gusto
p Arthur Hornblow Jnr d Mitchell Leisen w Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett ph Charles B.Lang ed Doane Harrison m Victor Young art Hans Dreier, Robert Usher
Claudette Colbert (Augusta Nash), Ray Milland (Tom Martin), Walter Abel (Mr Phillips), Dennis O’Keefe (Joe Shepard), Dick Purcell (Pinky O’Connor), George Zucco (Prison governor), Frank Puglia (Father Jacinto), Esther Dale (secretary), Paul Leyssac (Bresson), Aubrey Mather (Achille), Ann Codee (Mme.Bresson), Lionel Pape (Lord Kettlebrook),
A caption tells us of the International Brigade who came to Spain to fight the fight against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. It further tells us that, “of the soldiers of fortune who came from all over the world, only a few remain, waiting to be written off in a military prison near Burgos.” A slow pan down across a cobbled courtyard in the said prison reveals a man being marched to his death by firing squad. The camera rests not on the execution but on the grille to the ground level cell of an American man, Tom Martin, who is, in a few hours, to follow the other gentleman to his death. We find him playing cards with a monk, Father Jacinto, who is there not because of his delicacy and expertise in handling dealings with the soon to be terminated, but because he could speak English. His young charge, however, seems remarkably nonplussed by his upcoming removal from this mortal coil. “This is my first execution” remarks the padre; “don’t worry, father, it’s mine, too” retorts Milland’s Martin. The padre wants to provide comfort; Martin just wants him to keep playing cards and, eventually, the padre gives in and grants his wish.
Barely a moment later, in comes an adjutant who informs the padre, in Spanish, that Martin’s wife has come to rescue him. If Martin looks shocked, it’s because he’s a bachelor, but he naturally keeps mum and goes off, more than intrigued, to meet his ‘spouse’ in the prison governor’s office. Prior to climbing the final stairs across the courtyard to the office, Milland confides in the padre that he’s not married, leaving the padre’s gob well and truly smacked and following speechless to the office. After various pleasantries are exchanged, Martin leaves with his ‘wife’ who, it turns out, is reporter Augusta Nash, who persuades Martin to step on it in their escape car before the prison governor finds out the truth. As they’re leaving, we cut back to the governor reading Martin’s final will and testament left, Louis Mazzini-like, behind in his cell. The governor (a wonderful George Zucco) is tickled by Martin’s self-deprecating wit, as he leaves all his belongings to his firing squad “with compliments of the corpse”, only for him to realise that he only does so as he has no kith or kin, wife or children. Cue a chase to a local airport where Martin and Nash make a nick-of-time flight for freedom in a small plane.
So, two thirds of my space covered with the opening act, leaving scant room to do justice to the rest. Yet in reality Arise My Love (whose title is taken from the Song of Solomon, “arise my love, my fair one, and come away”) never quite loves up to that first act. Yet what follows remains, if patchy and a little dated due to its political immediacy, one of the bravest, sharpest of romantic comedies of the golden era. It’s easy to see why Claudette Colbert called it the favourite of her films, for she’s truly never been better, handling what is essentially a mix of Preston Sturges, Ernest Hemingway and Howard Hawks with consummate skill. Milland, too, was perfectly suited to Leisen’s careful hand, and leaves few wishing that original choice Joel McCrea had been able to play the role. Arguably topping both, though, is Abel, as the editor Phillips, secretly lusting after Augusta and realising she’s his greatest migraine inducer at the same time, feted never to see The Magic Flute in its entirety and oft-repeating his legendary line “I’m not happy. I’m not happy at all” as the latest calamity washes over him. And providing the heart – and otherwise – to the piece of whimsy, Wilder and Brackett providing one of a select few blithe scripts for other directors before running with it themselves. It may be a silly thing, but there are few films that know how to mix champagne and crème de menthe and that “death travels faster that sound.”