Architect Peter Ibbetson is hired by the Duke of Towers to design a building for him. Ibbetson discovers that the Duchess of Towers, Mary, is his now-grown childhood sweetheart. Their love revives, but Peter is sentenced to life in prison for an accidental killing. Mary comes to him in dreams and they are able to live out their romance in a dream world.Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
This 1933 Gary Cooper film is highly regarded and mentioned in many film books. It was a serious film in tone and content, and also in it's techniques. Initially, it seems a rather bland melodrama about two childhood sweethearts who are parted then reunited. The blandness is somewhat heightened by the visual blandness of Ann Harding, the female star. (She is blonde, but very visually monochromatic minimal eyebrows or eye make-up, which makes her seem very very plain, even though she is pretty.) This was the "taste of the times" for a serious "good" woman, and the reason I have this listed as an 8 is that it is definitely dated, and will be much too slow for many viewers.
The story is about dreams and architecture, so keep an eye on the buildings, there are really inventive and beautiful buildings. The stable that is supposed to be "horrible" is like a forest cottage in a fairy tale. The child casting at the beginning is funny by today's standards of continuity. These actually are pretty good child actors for the time not cloying or overly precious - but the boy's coloring is quite dissimilar to the adult. Big brown eyes of the boy becoming the famous baby blues of Cooper. But let these things go, and the early scenes are an effective and emotionally effective set up for the payoff.
The best part of the film comes in the last third. Suddenly, we are in an expressive fantasy completely grounded in the earlier part, but also completely different. Not only are the effects here still magical, reminiscent of Durer etchings, but they are also really overwhelming when we think about how difficult it was to achieve these effects in this time period. (Any thing that fades in or out - this had to be done by re-filming with the same piece of film, etc.) While never named, it is clearly colored by the "astral body" theories of the Eastern religions that were popular in Hollywood at the time, having a strong influence on art, architecture, and design during this period.
Ultimately this is a beautiful and memorable film about the strength of love, dreams, and the triumph of pure heart. This makes for a very quiet but powerful film. (Quiet and powerful became the hallmark of Cooper's screen character.) The strength of this film is its simplicity of message, and the really memorable and soulful performance of Cooper.
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