Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche - A Classy Cinderella RevisitedWednesday, April 23, 2008
Yesterday Rosemary and I sat down to watch Mitchell Leisen's 1939 film Midnight (it first opened at the Paramount on Broadway in April 1939).
While Rosemary set up our clandestine TV trays I boiled gnocchi and mixed it with green peas, chopped raw onion, butter and Maldon Kerala pepper. On this I sprinkled just grated Parmesan cheese and crumbled three pieces of thick bacon. We sat down for what I knew was going to be an extremely pleasant experience. Can you imagine a film with Don Ameche, Claudette Colbert, John Barrymore (who played the fairy godmother) and Mary Astor (her usual devious self)? And consider that one of the script writers was Billy Wilder.
This film had all the class and comic touches of another director of the period, Ernst Lubitsch whose 1939 Ninotchka, with Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas is another favourite of mine. I despair that if I watched this with Rebecca she might not understand the communist commissar aspect of it and not appreciate how Garbo breaks down and softens up. Does a 10-year-old know about the Soviet Union, communism and the bourgeoisie?
It is perhaps an obsession of mine that when I watch a film I always wonder if it would be one that Rebecca would enjoy and appreciate. With so many "crass" remakes of Cinderella in a modern world urban setting this one, Midnight, is set in Paris and the Ritz (populated by people who played bridge, drank Champagne and had no visible means of earning an income)and with a dashing prince (Don Ameche) who is a hungarian cab driver just might teach Rebecca what class is. And I will have to introduce her slowly to the real reason why Midnight is such a hit. Claudette Colbert plays an American small town gold digger who wears satin with panache and oozes the experience of woman who has seen the world, known her men and how they affect her and become all the wiser.
And how can I teach Rebecca to appreciate films in which:
1. There are no special effects.
2. There are no real villains.
3. Nobody is shot, killed, maimed or blown up.
4. And, principally, that the fairy story ending is far more believable than the special effects of contemporary films.
I was unable to explain to Rebecca last Saturday that going to Ballet BC's Peter Pan was a special occasion that warranted getting dressed up. Her parents did not seem to understand either. I explained to Rebecca that many of the girls who had dressed up rarely went to the ballet. The ballet is expensive and we just happen to have friends in higher places and thanks to photographic trades I am able to go to these events more frequently. Dressing up for the ballet is like drinking Coke from a Champagne glass. It tastes better.
Watching Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche spar in a taxi (with wonderful headlights esconced inside the grille. What car was it?) is very much like drinking that Coke in a Champagne glass. It is so much better than anything that is attempted now.
The original film review in the NY Times by Frank S. Nugent can be found here. It is my hope that this lovely review will open to all of you who might try. The review itself has that class, that dressup class that has all but disappeared.