History is Made at Night (1937): Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray]

Frank Borzage’s hybrid of genres has apparently been a film that has been neglected for a long time and not given a proper restoration. With Criterion they ensure a long lasting release of what is a pretty engaging mix of drama, comedy, romance, and yes, a disaster film. I’m not sure if I was as wild about “History is Made at Night” as most movie buffs seem to be, but Frank Borzage’s film is a success at being entertaining and engaging. Borzage is able to bounce between themes rather well, balancing out dread and whimsical romance well.

When his wife, Irene (Jean Arthur), plans to divorce him, wealthy and cruel businessman Bruce Vail (Colin Clive) sends his chauffeur to her Paris hotel room so he can catch her in a “compromising” position. Instead, Bruce interrupts a masked thief, who kidnaps Irene. Later, the thief — head waiter Paul Dumond (Charles Boyer) — reveals to Irene that he overheard the plot and wanted to help. After a romantic evening, Irene falls in love with Paul, but Bruce will stop at nothing to ruin them.

Most of the movie is centered on Irene and Paul Dumond falling for one another on one fateful night, divided sadly by their ranks in social status. The romance is thankfully not overbearing or melodramatic as the script opts for a much more subtle courtship that revolves around their effortless chemistry and romantic tension. The split between them and Colin Clive’s ruthless character is entertaining as Irene never quite realizes how much danger she is in. Clive’s villainous Bruce Vali is willing to do anything to claim Irene, and begins murdering allies in the process. There’s a very menacing tone whenever Bruce Vali is featured, and he views Irene as a possession to be claimed more than anything else.

This is emphasized by the portrait he has of her on display, which she rejects outright. Co-stars Charles Boyer and Jean Arthur are the highlight of the film, playing off each other quite well and adding a dynamite romantic central plot that I was invested in. There’s an especially good scene where Irene and Bruce go to dinner where Boyer’s Paul happens to be a waiter at, amounting to an awkward tension which results in Irene popping off with hysterical laughter. Borzage’s direction is great, as he handles the massive shifts in tone and themes well, allowing the film to feel very multi-faceted. “History is Made at Night” is not what I’d particularly call a masterpiece, but it’s a strong bit of entertainment for audiences that love unconventional romance films.

Include in the Criterion is a an illustrated leaflet featuring critic Dan Callahan’s essay “Taking a Chance on Love” as well as technical credits for the film including cast, and crew. Featured on the Criterion disc is the nine minutes Restoration Demonstration, a very interesting featurette that highlights some of the challenges Lee Kline and his crew faced while restoring History is Made at Night. There’s the conversation between Peter Cowie and Herve Dumont, former director of the Cinematheque suisse and author of Frank Borzage: The Life and Films of a Hollywood Romantic, and film scholar Peter Cowie. It was recorded at Lausanne, Switzerland, in January 2018. They discuss the production of History is Made at Night and the evolution of Frank Borzage’s career.

There’s a new program with Farran Smith Nehme who discusses the role of romance in Frank Borzage’s film. The program was produced in 2019. There are thirty minutes of audio excerpts from an interview with Frank Borzage, conducted by film historian and curator George Pratt in 1958, in honor of the director’s gift of a print of his film 7th Heaven to the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. In them, the director discusses his career in Hollywood and working on History is Made at Night. Finally there’s the twenty eight minutes The Screen Guild Theater from 1940 presenting an adaptation of History is Made at Night that was recorded for the radio anthology series The Screen Guild Theater. Charles Boyer reprises his role as Paul Dumond.