Frank S. Nugent wrote:
‘Midnight,’ With Don Ameche and Claudette Colbert, Strikes a Seasonal High in Comedy at the Paramount
The ice went out of the river at the Paramount yesterday, and Spring came laughing in with “Midnight,” one of the liveliest, gayest, wittiest and naughtiest comedies of a long hard season. Its direction, by Mitchell Leisen, is strikingly reminiscent of that of the old Lubitsch. Its cast, led by Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore and Francis Lederer, is in the best of spirits. Its script, by too many authors to mention, is a model of deft phrasing and glib narrative joinery; and its production, while handsome, never has been permitted to bulk larger than its players. The call is for three cheers and a tiger: the Paramount is back on Broadway again.
The “Midnight” of the title is the fatal hour that strikes for every Cinderella, the moment when the coach will change back into a pumpkin, the ballroom dress will fall into rags and the prince charming discover the smudge of soot, or fried egg, on the changeling’s cheek. But the clock doesn’t strike when the film’s midnight comes; out, instead, pops a cuckoo with a clarion call to humor. Things go hilariously to smash, but not Cinderella. Even the fairy godmother—in this case, John Barrymore—blinks amazedly at his protégé’s carryings-on. When Miss Colbert plays Cinderella she doesn’t depend on a magic wand; a slapstick and a bludgeon are handier, and funnier.
It begins with the arrival in Paris on a rainy night of a young woman with one evening gown to her back, and not too much of it to it. In a matter of moments she has met a cab-driver named Czerny, crashed a society musicale and has been “set up”—to use the Park Avenue phrase—in the Ritz by a prankish, yet practical, millionaire with instructions to break up, by intervention, the affair between his wife and an irrepressibly romantic man about town. Miss Colbert’s “Baroness Czerny”—a title by courtesy of the cabby—is beautiful bait, and everything goes smoothly until midnight and even more smoothly, in a comic sense, thereafter.
Usually these things fall apart of their own complications; this one has the marvelous air of being bolstered by them. There is the business of the cab-drivers’ posse; there is the business of Cinderella being baffled by the godmother’s magic wand; there is the business of Cabby Czerny’s heroic attempts to expose the fraud and being considered a lunatic; there is the bit in which Mr. Barrymore impersonates a 3-year-old; there is the complication attending the discovery that the non-wed Czernys will have to be divorced.
We could mention other zany bits, but it wouldn’t help. It is really too daffy to be synopsized. You’ll have to take our word for it that it’s fun. Most of the credit, of course, belongs to Miss Colbert. She has superb command of the comic style, can turn a line or toss a vase with equal precision. Mr. Barrymore, the Gehrig of eye-brow batting, rolls his phrases with his usual richly humorous effect, and Mr. Ameche and Mr. Lederer were quite as helpful. All of them have made it a happy occasion. Pictures like “Midnight” should strike more often.
MIDNIGHT, screen play by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, from a story by Edwin Justus Mayer and Franz Schulz; directed by Mitchell Leisen; produced for Paramount by Arthur Hornblow Jr. At the Paramount.
Eve Peabody . . . . . Claudette Colbert
Tibor Czerny . . . . . Don Ameche
Georges Flammarion . . . . . John Barrymore
Jacques Picot . . . . . Francis Lederer
Helene Flammarion . . . . . Mary Astor
Simone . . . . . Elaine Barrie
Stephanie . . . . . Hedda Hopper
Marcel . . . . . Rex O’Malley
Judge . . . . . Monty Woolley
Lebon . . . . . Armand Kaliz
Edouart . . . . . Lionel Pape
Major Domos . . . . . Ferdinand Munier, Gennaro Curci
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