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Idiot's Delight (1939)

Approved | | Comedy, Drama, Musical | 27 January 1939 (USA)
A group of disparate travelers are caught are thrown together in a posh Alpine hotel when the borders are closed at the start of WWII.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Madame Zuleika
'Don' Navadel (as Skeets Gallagher)
Peter Willes ...
William Edmunds ...
Shirley Laughlin
Francine Merle
Beulah Tremayne


When song-and-dance man Harry Van returns from World War I, he finds work hard to come by. His greatest success comes as straight man in a phony vaudeville mind-reading act with the tipsy Madame Zulieka. While on tour in Omaha he meets acrobat Irene Fellara, and they have a brief romance. Twenty years later while Harry is on tour in Europe with a troupe of leggy blonde dancers, his train is stopped at the Swiss border and he finds himself stranded in the Alps in anticipation of World War II hostilities. Harry and his chorines take refuge in an Alpine hotel with a group of disparate travelers who are also marooned there. Among them are an American pacifist, British newlyweds, a cancer researcher, a German munitions manufacturer, and a beautiful blonde expatriate Russian aristocrat who looks suspiciously like the Irene of two decades earlier. Written by duke1029@aol.com

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The Biggest Thrill They Ever Gave You! Norma and Clark together in the romance of a "ham" song-and-dance man and a "red-headed liar from Omaha." See more »


Approved | See all certifications »




| |

Release Date:

27 January 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Az élet komédiása  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Lana Turner was supposed to be one of the blondes that carried Clark Gable off at the end of his musical number "Puttin on the Ritz", but she had to go into hospital to fix a botched operation on her appendix. See more »


During the air battle in the ending shot for the international market the background film is clearly looped since the same twin-tailed airplane (similar to an American P-38) flies past the window 8 times. See more »


Irene Fellara: I've been watching your act, Mr. Van. I couldn't help picking up some of the code. I mean, your tone of voice when you say - concentrate. There are subtle changes that mean different things.
Harry Van: Where did you learn words like subtle?
Irene Fellara: Oh, I haven't always been an acrobat, Mr. Van. I attended the University in Vienna... with Freud, Jung, all the great teachers.
Harry Van: From the University in Vienna to the El Dorado in Omaha. So jump!
Irene Fellara: Yes. Ha-ha. That's been my whole life, today the mountaintops - tomorrow ...
See more »

Crazy Credits

The actresses who play "Les Blondes" are not credited individually; they are given the credit "Harry Van's 'Les Blondes'......Themselves", similar to the manner in which the "Munchkins" were credited in "The Wizard of Oz", another film released that year by M-G-M. See more »


Featured in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Big Parade Hits for 1940 (1940) See more »


By the Light of the Silvery Moon
Music by Gus Edwards
Lyrics by Edward Madden
Sung by a male chorus line, including Clark Gable
See more »

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User Reviews

Yet Another Gem from 1939!!!!!!!
14 January 2004 | by (New Jersey) – See all my reviews

Robert E. Sherwood won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for his allegory-like satire Idiot's Delight. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer purchased the film rights to the play, and commissioned Sherwood himself to adapt his play to the screen. The result is this astoundingly poignant classic, which features Norma Shearer and Clark Gable in the third and last of their radiant screen pairings. Harry Van (Gable) is a vaudevillian touring all of Europe with his musical troupe `Les Blondes.' The group is forced to stay in an exclusive Alpine hotel when the European borders are closed due to the possible coming of war. A German doctor (Charles Coburn), a French pacifist (Burgess Meredith), an English honeymoon couple (Peter Willes and Pat Paterson), and an Italian officer (Joseph Schildkraut) are lodging in the hotel as well. And also checking in are munitions manufacturer Achille Weber (Edward Arnold) and a beautiful traveling companion of his named Irene (Shearer). Irene, it seems, reminds Harry of an old girlfriend of his, with whom he had shared a special relationship ten years before in Omaha, Nebraska. But she was a redhead, and spoke with no accent. Irene, however, is a platinum blonde, and has a very clear Russian accent. Still, Harry wonders if it could be the same woman. As Harry pursues Irene, probing her complex web of stories to find out about her past, the war develops rather suddenly. A nearby airfield sends out its bombers, and the garbled radio broadcasts carry the fearful news: war has already been declared. As quickly as the guests assembled, they must depart, as the frontiers are opened for perhaps the last time. But Harry is unwilling to go until he is sure, and Irene is unwilling to divulge… One of the countless films from 1939 to help it earn the nickname of `the greatest year in movie history,' Idiot's Delight is both acerbically funny and tragically distressing. Although the original 1936 play and the film version both predate World War II, the threat of war was a very real fear, a sentiment quite powerfully expressed via the disparate, sundry characters. It is startling and even more meaningful all these years after the war, as one can easily see how many of the unfortunate predictions came to glaring truth.

But aside from dramatic poignancy, the two lead performances catapult this film to first-rate status. Shearer is brilliant, quite plainly. She spoofs her number one rival Greta Garbo mercilessly, and uses her accent to its hilarious apex. When she tells her story to Harry, and he just gazes at her, incredulously staring, hilarity reaches its peak! She has turned in so many fine performances, that it is hard to single out any one as her finest (Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, the title role in Marie Antoinette, Elizabeth Barrett Browning in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, her Oscar-winning role in The Divorcée, and Amanda in Private Lives are all strong contenders), but her Irene is certainly amongst the competitors. Gable, in a role that requires quite a lot of singing and dancing, succeeds admirably. He is a perfect Harry Van, complimenting perfectly with Shearer. The two have fantastic chemistry, and this was the last of the three classics they starred in together.

****side note****respected Shearer biographer Gavin Lambert singled this out as his favorite of all of the star's pictures. In one vignette he illustrates in his biography of Norma Shearer, he describes an occasion where the actress herself invited him to a private screening of the film in the 1970s.

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The two endings ziegfeldgirl1941
Are both endings on the DVD from Warner Archives? pms1962
DVD now available directly from Warner's webpage! simonhowson
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