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  Midnight The Cinderella Factor
Year: 1939
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Stars: Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore, Francis Lederer, Mary Astor, Elaine Barrie, Hedda Hopper, Rex O'Malley, Monty Woolley, Armand Kaliz
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The passengers disembark from a train in a Paris railway station, but as one of the porters walks the length of the carriages he notes there is one woman clad in an evening gown who is fast asleep on one of the seats. He rouses her and asks if she wishes to pick up her luggage, to which she answers that it's back in Monte Carlo in a pawnbroker's and sets off into the rainy night to try and make some money. She is Eve Peabody (Claudette Colbert), showgirl and gold-digger whose last attempt to make something of herself with someone else's money has hit the rocks, and she cannot afford even a taxi - but maybe she won't need to, as one of the drivers assembled outside the doors offers to lend her a hand...

He was Hungarian expat Tibor Czerny, except he wasn't, he was movie star Don Ameche really, in one of those movie movie conceits where you would have one of the most famous people in the world deigning to play a nobody, all to make sure we recognised that even such a nobody can be a somebody in the right hands. It was one of those details which summed up a certain kind of film - they used to call it Hollywood moonshine, which is a more delicate way of putting it than the alternative - where the great and the good (celebrity actors and actresses) could prove they were not some untouchable, blessed class for us to gaze adoringly upon, they were capable of understanding we ordinary folk and depicting universal hopes and fears.

Which in this case were such things as having enough income to get by and holding on to a certain someone who you have fallen for romantically, two elements which Hollywood could provide happy endings for in their fictions all the better to endear themselves to the audiences who bought tickets for their productions. But with Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett working on the script, there was bound to be a touch of cynicism, in this case forcing us to sympathise with a heroine who more or less cheats her way through life, and in contrast to where it has landed her when we catch up with her, by half and hour in it all seems to be working out very nicely, something even Eve is baffled by. What has she done to deserve this sudden streak of good fortune?

She has simply attracted the attentions of what amounts to a fairy godfather, this being a commentary on the story of Cinderella as the title suggests, and that man was Georges Flammarion, essayed by one of the most famous actors of his day. The Great Profile himself, for it was he, John Barrymore, grandfather to Drew Barrymore and by the point he made Midnight, a career high in the view of many, he was a sad alcoholic lucky to get any roles at all. The stories around him and his exploits were legendary, although tended to mask how much he wasted his talent when he was married to the bottle, yet every so often he had a chance to show what he was capable of and a gem of a performance like the one in this was most valuable, though he did look as if the drinking had taken its toll on his once-handsome features.

In an admirably complex plot, brought to life by a director - Mitchell Leisen - who loved to show off the lavish, ideal for fairy tales like this, Tibor falls in love with Eve as they fail to find her a nightclub job that night, then offers to take her home after a bite to eat. Yet Eve is just using him, charmingly but exploitation is undeniably in place, and does a runner to end up at a posh recital she tricks her way into; this is where she meets Georges, who sees right through her and also an opportunity. Now he can persuade Eve to seduce the gigolo (Francis Lederer) who is conducting an affair with his wife (Mary Astor, Barrymore's one-time protégé): Georges wishes to put a stop to that. So you see, nobody is entirely pure of motive, except Tibor and he so aggressively pursues Eve that he's not exactly sympathetic either. That we kept watching was testament to the cocktail of skills brought to the table (mention also going to Rex O'Malley as the gay best friend of Astor and Monty Woolley as a furious judge), and a captivating yarn of chic, prickly people behaving badly presented as good. Music by Frederick Hollander.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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