history is made at night (1937)
As always, Borzage's penchant for feeling, the vivd characters he draws and his winning of our sentiments makes all the difference with History is Made at Night. Melodrama that switches to comedy and back, between characters we're not sure are all that well drawn, and when they are seem almost cliche, they rise to the top and the film eschews any potential pitfalls of a plot that could go trite at any moment. Borzage makes it all work, as from start to finish we care deeply about what is to befall our protagonists. Even our villain in Colin Clive is seen as lustful for all things in the name of greatness, and here is his folly. He even wants his wife Irene to be completely his in front of everyone in the name of his own greatness. What does it make him look like to the press and his constituents when Irene is not by his side, clinging to his arm at his every appearance? The answer is, of course, that Irene would be there if not for the alienating way that he treats her, the domineering and insecure man choking the life out of their marriage one day at a time by trying, like all things in life, to desperately control it. Mutual blindness to one another, although Borzage and the script seem to fall firmly on the side of the fence wherein Clive is the villain and Jean Arthur is in distress. It takes a night out with a soul mate to invigorate her life as well as the life of her new love. Borzage's tale is simple and fruitfully told as we trade settings each act to keep the drama moving. His Paris sequences are light and airy, and just when it begins to go stale, the New York streets save the picture and the plot advances in new ways. Same with the last act which mimics sequences straight out of a Titanic picture. The introduction of action and drama, once again keep the picture in good territory.
The film flirts with disaster at every turn, oddly enough it was Clive's last picture before dying from alcoholism and the picture would have been even more noteworthy in its final act's tragedy had Clive and Arthur really flown on the Hindenburg as they plan to (the real disaster would take place only months after the film's release). The film's unique genre play, as the story goes, comes from a script that wasn't complete when production began, and then was changed throughout according to the whims or Borzage and producer Walter Wanger. It's that same light touch with a hand barely on the wheel that makes the picture tick and keeps it all afloat; a general sense that anything can happen and that our heroes fate is never decided or pre-destined. Borzage injects romance into each sequence, Arthur's manic panics and her general screen presence sweeping us up in the action. History is Made at Night is a 1930's Hollywood romance played to the fullest, with plenty of oozing emotion and just the right amount of old Hollywood glamour and allure. High style, high fashion and the wealthy set the stage; the world of fine dining and the business magnates. Captains of industry who play more like masters of the universe; like Wall Street tycoons and Silicon Valley Techies after them, the shipbuilders and railroad men of the time crushed anything in their path. Yet, in Borzage's universe, the delicate Irene can't fall for or be kept by a man of such predatory power, such lust for misguided achievement. Clive's character chases achievement at all costs, and at barely any real benefit, only to be the first, the biggest, the fastest. In the position of best man, Borzage chooses a head waiter; a man who values craft and elegance, who values the finer delicacies in life over the steel brawn of the 20th century and the industrial revolution. All live music, dancing and indulging in lobster. When placed against one another, Borzage's allegiances are clear. The monster of the mechanized industrial age has no feeling, no romance within him. Borzage crafts the film like an ode to romance itself, and an age where one could take it slow, let the sensuality build and inject some true eroticism via a slow dance.
Perhaps it is Borzage's rejection of the modern age in which he lives, as well as his admiration for those who live by their own passions whether they are in step with their time or not, that makes the hearts of his various films beat so boldly. We always center on individuals whose aims are passionate, attached to the flow of life, not to society's lockstep. With History is Made at Night, the burning desires are made manifest in the lovers embrace as well as the director's narrative abandon and genre play. A film so free and alive as this ignites the imagination and brings the usual script that boxes itself in to a script that continually breaks through walls and opens itself to us. As one of Borzage's most memorable films and screen couples, History is Made at Night slowly drifts and beckons us in to its romance.