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Told in flashback from a preface in which the main character visits Paramount to sell his story! Romanian-French gigolo Georges Iscovescu wishes to enter the USA. Stopped in Mexico by the quota system, he decides to marry an American, then desert her and join his old partner Anita, who's done likewise. But after sweeping teacher Emmy Brown off her feet, he finds her so sweet that love and jealousy endanger his plans. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Charles Boyer, Olivia de Havilland, and Paulette Goddard star in this excellent romantic drama set on the Mexican-American border. The plot is simple: Boyer plays suave Romanian womanizer Georges Iscovescu, who attempts to become an American citizen by marrying a somewhat naïve schoolteacher (de Havilland), who is leading a field trip from her school in California to a Fourth of July celebration in the scorching Mexican town. Meanwhile, an old flame of Georges (Goddard) is also in town and complicates matters.
The plot is better than it sounds due to the superb performances all around and the ingenious screenplay by Charles Brackett and the great Billy Wilder (with uncredited contribution by Richard Maibaum and Manuel Reachi). It's a great pity that such a superior film is currently unavailable on DVD or VHS and is locked inside the vaults of Universal Studios. I've wanted to see the film for years until I finally stumbled upon a copy with some difficulty along the way and it was well worth the journey. It's no wonder the film was such a critical and popular success in its day and received six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Writing, and Best Actress for Olivia de Havilland.
In spite of this, HOLD BACK THE DAWN remains one of the finest films ever produced in the history of Paramount Pictures and is a must-see for classic film lovers everywhere. Charles Boyer plays the charming and conniving Georges with perfection, Olivia de Havilland was never lovelier to look at in a sparkling performance as Emmy Brown, and Paulette Goddard is sassy and spirited as Georges' attractive ex-girlfriend Anita Dixon. Also worth mentioning are the colorful supporting performances by Walter Abel, Victor Francen, Curt Bois, Rosemary DeCamp, and many others. Also worth mentioning in the supporting cast is the film's director, Mitchell Leisen, playing a fictional Paramount director working on a scene from the real Veronica Lake-Brian Donlevy aviation romance film I WANTED WINGS (1941) in a highly creative sequence. The film is beautifully photographed by Leo Tover, lushly scored by Victor Young, and convincingly designed by Hans Dreier, Robert Usher, and Sam Comer. All of these highly professional crew members received Oscar nominations for their work here.
However, I must leave room for the masterful performance of Olivia de Havilland, who looks absolutely stunning in Leo Tover's black-and-white cinematography (there's even a scene in which she joyfully skinny-dips!) and is a delight to watch as the childlike Emmy, who transforms from a shy ingénue to a lively bride to finally a mature-minded wife. The outstandingly vivid chemistry between Charles and Olivia is very obvious: Charles was one of Olivia's favorite male costars. In fact, Oliva showed the love in her eyes too much in an early scene and it had to be re-shot to suit the demands of Mitchell Leisen, who wanted her to show more restraint at that point in the story.
All in all, this is a wonderfully romantic film that holds up incredibly well today and is well worth watching if you ever have a chance to see it. Here's hoping and praying that Universal will finally recognize HOLD BACK THE DAWN for what it's worth and release it with great fanfare to DVD!
In a footnote, the film's enigmatic title comes from Georges' seduction towards Emmy while the morning light slowly appears outside the hotel lobby window: "You see, we are like...two trains, halted for a moment at the same station. But we're going in different directions. We can't change our course, any more than we can hold back the dawn."
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