Hold Back the Dawn (1941):

Holed up in a Mexican fleapit, Rumanian gigolo Charles Boyer is waiting for U.S. approval to cross the border when he's tipped off by floozy flame Paulette Goddard on the wonders of marrying Americans for green cards. After surveying the Fourth of July reveries, he sets his eyes on lonely teacher Olivia de Havilland, in town with a carload of students, and turns on the charm. They're married before the end of the night, though Boyer's hitch-and-ditch scheme is muddled after the two are forced to go on the road together to flee immigration inspector Walter Abel. Opening with casual self-reflexibility (a disheveled Boyer pitching his tale to director Mitchell Leisen on the set of I Wanted Wings), this romantic melodrama is remembered more as a footnote in Billy Wilder's career than a highlight in Leisen's oeuvre: Wilder, who wrote the screenplay with Charles Brackett, famously decided to start directing his own scripts after both star and director sheared off one of his favorite bits of business. Boyer's Eurotrash heel is one of earliest manifestations of the budding auteur's dictum of success-as-prostitution (Sunset Blvd., The Apartment), and the character's growing awareness (and loathing) of his displaced emptiness, enacted in a harsh no-man's-land of hotels and empty roads, is strongly Wilderian. Yet Leisen's temperament is also key to the dexterity of the darkening romance, especially felt in his guiding of de Havilland -- like many of his other films, it charts the dreams of a woman, here filtered through a male standpoint. Less schizophrenic than Arise, My Love, their previous collaboration, the film unites Wilder and Leisen in their belief in redemptive love. With Victor Francen, Rosemary DeCamp, and Curt Bois. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home