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Robert Z. Leonard
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
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 »
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 »
By the time Idiot's Delight came to the big screen, the rumors of war were more than rumor as they were in 1936 when the play ran 300 performances on Broadway. The fear of war as a concept, valid as it was after World War I, had given way to real dictators with military machines on the left and right of the spectrum who were on the move. Knowing that, I wonder what audiences thought of in 1939 when they saw this film.
On stage it starred the legendary team of Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne as the two bit vaudeville hoofer and the woman he thinks he might have known from way back when. So Clark Gable and Norma Shearer had quite a bit to measure up to on screen. I'm betting that Lunt and Fontanne played it much differently.
For one thing the entire stage play is set in that hotel lobby in the Italian Alps, so when Lunt is busy trying to remember just where he knows Fontanne from, the audience doesn't know. For the screen, author Robert Sherwood to take the work out of a one scene environment wrote that whole beginning where we see Gable's less than brilliant career and his meeting with Shearer in Omaha which really stuck in his mind over the years.
The screen version is about the encounter between two people that left an indelible impression on at least one of them with the rest of the cast in support. On stage the characters played by the Lunts are part of an ensemble, two people with a past caught up in the beginning of a war where the sides aren't quite made clear. That really isn't important, the idea is war is a bad thing.
On stage the work was timely. There was a notion around that World War I was started by the folks who were arms makers, a notion popularized by the US Senate and a North Dakota Republican isolationist Senator named Gerald P. Nye. By 1939 fewer and fewer were buying into Nye's ideas. The play and film if it has a villain it's that of the munitions manufacturer who Edward Arnold plays. He's a villain for starting the war he and his kind. It's in his company that Gable sees Shearer and he keeps wondering where you and I have met before.
Idiot's Delight was the last of three films that Gable and Shearer did together. The first one is the best, A Free Soul, in fact it's the film that got Clark Gable his big break as a star. Idiot's Delight even tailored for Gable and Shearer and movie audiences isn't as good as that first pairing. Still it's a milestone film with a watered down message.
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