A Victorian-era architect, commissioned by the Duke of Towers to design his stables, falls in love with the Duchess.A Victorian-era architect, commissioned by the Duke of Towers to design his stables, falls in love with the Duchess.A Victorian-era architect, commissioned by the Duke of Towers to design his stables, falls in love with the Duchess.
These stories are ageless and have appeared as recently as "Somewhere In Time" (1980) and "Meet Joe Black" (1998)---itself a reworking of "Death Takes a Holiday." "Peter Ibbetson" may be one of the very best films to explore the force of destiny on young lovers linked from childhood to be together "forever." The beauty of this film is in its design, execution and performances.
Henry Hathaway, the director, worked with Gary Cooper earlier in 1935 in the rousing action adventure "Lives of a Bengal Lancer." Are there two more dissimilar films than these? It is a tribute to Hathaway's skill and artistry that he could make both stories work so well when they were completed almost at the same time.
Cooper excelled in portraying sensitive characters ("Pride of the Yankees" (1942), "Sergeant York" (1941), etc.) and Peter Ibbetson was well within his range of projecting an introspective romantic hero whose great love must be found in the world of dreams. It is a fine, deeply felt performance.
Ann Harding, not well known today as a romantic actress, captures the complexity and subtlety of the story. Her ability to will the Cooper character into believing that their love must persist even if it exists only in their own imagination is both powerful and enduring.
When contemporary critics take shots at the old Hollywood Studio System as nothing more than a glorified factory grinding out entertainment fodder for the masses, they ought to take a look at this strange, moving and truly unusual film. Its creators probably knew going in that it was not likely to be a box office hit given the nature of the subject matter. The fact that it was made at all and in such a sumptuous manner is an excellent tribute to the taste of the powers that be at Paramount.
Seek out "Peter Ibbetson," You will be transported to a world that no longer exists---and into a story that requires the viewer to be a real romantic with great imagination. It will reward you with a deeply touching tale where true love finally wins out under the most extraordinary of circumstances. What more need be said?
- Mar 18, 2007