Friday, February 4, 2011

I Met Him in Paris

Director Ernst Lubitsch once famously said, “I’ve been to Paris, France and I’ve been to Paris Paramount. Paris Paramount is better.”

Despite its title, only a small portion of Paramount’s “I Met Him in Paris” (1937) takes place in the title city, but its there in all its glory.

Paris Paramount is where the world’s most beautiful and sophisticated people wear the latest fashions, drink and say witty things to each other. No one talks politics, there’s no war, and there’s no poverty or unemployment. Of course there’s no unemployment – someone has to keep those massive Art Deco apartments and nightclubs gleaming.

In “I Met Him in Paris” Claudette Colbert plays Kay Harding, a fashion buyer for a New York apartment store who has been saving for four years for a Paris vacation. She has an OK time, but misses the companionship of someone who speaks English. One night in a bar she meets two Americans, George Potter (Melvyn Douglas) and Gene Anders (Robert Young.) Soon the two men are vying for her affections and the three of them decide to vacation together in Switzerland. Separate rooms in the hotel of course.

While “I Met Him in Paris” is a fine title, a more accurate title would be “I Vacationed with Two Men in Switzerland.” However, that would have never made it past the Hays Office.

Paramount Switzerland is every bit as wonderful as Paramount Paris. Even the outdoor bar is staffed by a waiter wearing a tuxedo. In one of my favorite scenes, Douglas and Colbert are skating together at the outdoors skating rink and she says she hasn’t had breakfast yet. Douglas calls for a waiter and the tuxedo-clad waiter skates up to them and takes their order for coffee and orange juice. I don’t even like winter sports, but I want to stay at that resort.

The film itself is most agreeable concoction. There’s little doubt who’s going to wind up with the fair Claudette in the end, especially when Gene’s wife (Mona Barrie) shows up. Oh, there’s a third suitor (Lee Bowman, as ineffectual as ever) but he’s such a mope there’s never a question that she and Melvyn Douglas will wind up together.

The more I see Melvyn Douglas in these light comedy roles, the more I appreciate him. He did a million of them and I think it’s because he never overshadows his leading ladies. Whether he’s playing against Irene Dunne, Rosalind Russell, Joan Blondell, Joan Crawford, Claudette Colbert and, of course, Greta Garbo, he never takes the limelight away from them. Bette Davis liked playing with George Brent for the same reason.

But Douglas is a better actor than Brent, with a twinkle in his eye and the slight twitch of a smile as he teases his leading ladies. He appreciates them as the great ladies they are but can’t resist bringing them down a peg.

There’s a surprising amount of slapstick comedy on hand here as the three engage in all manners of winter sports. My favorite scenes involve novice skier Robert Young constantly being overtaken by a group of skiers who can’t resist yodeling as they ski down a hill. The more they yodel, the more annoyed Young becomes. (Can’t blame him there).

Another amusing sequence has the three on a bobsled. Well, really two, because Young, the brakeman, has fallen off the back as they’re pushing off. And then Douglas and Colbert start going really fast. She falls off, and can’t scramble up the ice-crusted bobsled run. She’s trapped in the run’s narrow confines and off in the distance she can hear another bobsled barreling towards her. It’s comedy as suspense, and it’s probably the best bobsled sequence until 007 raced after Blofeld in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969).

There seems to some dispute as to where these outdoor scenes were filmed. IMDB says Sun Valley, Idaho, but the DVD says Lake Placid, New York, site of the 1932 Olympics. Regardless of which one it was, it's a fine substitute for Switzerland, with able assistance from the always reliable Paramount set decorators.

“I Met Him in Paris” is an agreeable concoction. Not the most memorable comedy of the era, but a most enjoyable one. It’s fun seeing the trio of stars take some well-executed pratfalls in the snow, and it’s the type of movie one happily watches with a smile on one’s face, and one that lingers pleasantly in the memory. Good show.


Laura said...

I liked this one too. I was impressed with Colbert and Douglas doing their own ice skating (something I can't do, grin). The outdoor scenes were lovely, and as you noted, they make you wish you were there.

Best wishes,

Kevin Deany said...

Laura, it says on the Claudette Colbert DVD Collection box that the stars were coached by Olympic ice skaters for their skating scenes. Don't know if its true or not, but I agree about the ice skating.

In one scene the shot is far enough away that I thought it was a double for Colbert, but no she skates towards the camera with no cutting involved. Pretty impressive.

Amasea said...

Here's some more information about how and where this movie was filmed:

Kevin Deany said...

So it as Sun Valley after all. Interesting. Thanks for passing that link on Amasea.

Rick29 said...

Kevin, I haven't seen this movie, but enjoyed your witty review. In fact, I like your proposed title much better. That's a great quote from Lubitsch, too.

ClassicBecky said...

That quote is so true -- no real world can compare with a Hollywood world. I think I saw this one a long time ago. It is cute. I totally agree about the difference between Melvin Douglas and George Brent. Douglas is much less of a male "threat" than Brent. I always had a crush on George Brent when I was a kid. So did Bette Davis, I understand! Good post!

Classicfilmboy said...

Excellent review! I've never seen the movie but really enjoyed your take on it, particularly the use of that great Lubitsch quote. I'm now intrigued, as I like Colbert and Douglas. And I completely agree with your assessment of Douglas. Great post!