Frank Borzage’s masterful romance History Is Made at Night (1937) screens this evening (Wed 8/27) at 8 PM at University of Chicago Doc Films, 1212 E. 59th Street. Jean Arthur stars as an American socialite trying to escape her unhappy marriage, and Charles Boyer is the dashing Parisian headwaiter who comes to her aid. There are also choice supporting performances by Leo Carillo (oddly shorn of his sombrero) as Boyer’s loyal pal, a fatuous French chef, and Colin Clive (oddly shorn of Boris Karloff) as Arthur’s husband, a sour and controlling businessman.
Dave Kehr describes the film better than I can, noting that “Borzage uses every resource of mise-en-scene—lighting, camera movement, depth of focus, and cutting—to create a separate enchanted environment for his characters.” Yet the moment that moved me the most comes when that enchanted environment widens to include everyone else. Trapped on a sinking ocean liner, Boyer insists that Arthur leave him behind and board one of the lifeboats. As the women and children are all herded onto the boats and the men stay behind, Borzage cuts from the lovers to an assortment of other passengers in their heartbreak, as wives are torn from their husbands, children from their parents. Love, as the song goes, is all around.