Monday, August 20, 2012

Idiot's Delight (1939)




“Well, we gotta be pulling out now babe.”
“I know, but not together.”
“No, not together. You go your way and I go mine. But I got a hunch we'll see each other again. Sometime.” 

            Both Norma Shearer and Clark Gable made only two films in 1939. She was in The Women one of the best assembled casts ever. And do I even have to mention what ridiculously famous film Gable was in that year? The other film they made that year, Shearer and Gabled starred in together. The film is called Idiot’s Delight.
            Harry Van (Gable) has just returned home after serving in World War I. Before the war he was a stage actor. He goes to look for a new job but he cannot get anything decent. His name goes in the ads as “Harry Van At Liberty” meaning he will do anything. When that does not work out, he gets jobs as an elixir salesman and an encyclopedia salesman. He finally gets a stage job with a phony psychic named Madame Zuleika (Laura Hope Crewes… who was also with Gable in his other 1939 film). At a show in Omaha Zuleika gets a bit tipsy on gin when she is up on stage. Trying to be nice and help the “psychic” out a young woman backstage gives her the answer to what Harry has in her hand but since Zuleika is drunk she asks the woman to repeat it. The act falls apart and Harry runs backstage. He is not very happy with the young woman named Irene (Shearer) who is part of the acrobatic act that has been traveling with Harry and a few other acts. That night Irene goes to Harry’s room to apologize for what he did to his act and that she admires him. He takes her out to dinner even though he really does not seem to care too much for her. Irene tells Harry that he is a smart man and has a lot of potential.

            When they get back to the hotel he tells her to go to bed he wants to talk to some guys in the lobby. Harry goes up to his room to find Irene sitting at a table waiting for him with a blind fold around her eyes. Irene lets slip that she knows the code and tells him she sneaked it out his room while he was performing. She wants to go with him with his act she wants to learn the codes he and Zuleika have to guess what he is holding. She wants to be something more and do something more than just be an acrobat. Harry will not teach her so to calm the situation down he starts reading something to Irene. Irene just stars longingly and affectionately at him as he reads. The camera pans down to show that Irene’s hand is resting on Harry’s and he closes the book.
            Sometime later Harry and Irene have to part their acts are going separate ways. Before they part he buys her a little souvenir that says Omaha on it. He bought it for her to remember him because he really likes her she was the only woman he ever met who he could to. When their trains are about to depart Harry tells Irene he has a feeling they will meet each other again.
            As the years roll on Harry still has a hard time finding a job. He finally travels to Europe where he puts together a traveling show with six girls called Les Blondes. The act is traveling by train from Germany to Geneva. The train was traveling through the frontier through the Alps to the border when the train is stopped and Harry and the girls are told to get off the train. None of them can understand the language being spoken to them and are confused by what is going on. Harry finds out that there is trouble ahead. War is imminent around the area and they must be kept from going further for their own safety. The act is taken to a hotel in the mountains. The hotel is beautiful and overlooks the mountains. At the bottom of the hotel is an air strip where the rich would be flown in but now there are bomber planes awaiting orders to strike.
            Another traveler comes into the hotel. A man named Achille Weber (Edward Arnold) enters the hotel but is immediately over shadowed by his companion a flamboyant Russian woman with bright blonde hair and extravagant clothing. The moment she walks into the hotel Harry cannot keep his eyes off of her she looks so much like Irene. After the woman and Weber go upstairs Harry sits down and plays a Russian song on the piano he had heard the night he had taken Irene out to dinner.
            Before dinner as the Russian woman is getting ready for dinner, she tells Achille what she thinks of his work helping to create the new war. He does not like what he hears from her but does nothing at the moment. Sitting downstairs that night with a young British couple Irene (said with a Russian accent sounds a little different) regales stories of when she used to visit her royal cousins in England every summer and her life as part of Russian royalty before the first war. Harry just sits there and listens and he clearly looks annoyed because he knows who she is and she is acting all odd.

            The mood gets a little tense when an American man named Quillary (Burgess Meredith) begins talking about peace and what the surrounding soldiers are doing. He says that Achille Weber is a bad man who just wants to cause destruction. To lighten the mood Harry and the girls perform a little number from one of their acts. When the show is over Quillary is arrested and later killed for all that he knows.


            After all the fuss Harry and Irene sit down together. She asks him why he stares at her and replies because she looks like someone he used to know a woman that still occupies his mind. He tells her the woman he knew was a pain  he was trying to get rid of her the whole time just to see what Irene’s reaction is. She laughs it off. Harry asks her to spell her name and it is just like the Irene he knew and he jumps up and tells her he knows who she is. Irene just goes on laughing saying she has no idea of where Omaha is and has nothing to do with the girl he knew.
            The next morning the border into Switzerland is open so everyone can leave. A problem comes up with Irene’s passport. It is a United Nations issued passport since Irene has been traveling around the world since she was young and has no official home. Achille has been vouching for her since he is a part of the UN in some way and this time he tells the officer giving the trouble that he will not be vouching for Irene this time. She knows she cannot leave because she knows too much about Achille’s business he has left her to die in the upcoming bombing. Harry does not want to leave her but the girls keep calling for him. Irene is left alone in the hotel that will eventually be bombed. But she is not there alone for too long. Harry comes back to her. Almost as soon as he gets back the bombers start coming. Everyone runs to the cellar but Harry and Irene they do not want to die in a cellar. Irene pulls out the souvenir from Omaha and drops her accent. They talk about starting an act when they get out of their situation. She wants to go by a new name and wear a dark dress against her white body.  
            Now there are two endings to this film. There is an international one that is more spiritual and uplifting where Harry plays the piano and he and Irene sing a hymn. The domestic version is really funny the bombs have stopped falling and they are safe. When they realize they are alive and safe Irene goes a bit nuts and talks about what she will wear in their new act and the name she will go by and Harry starts playing an old dancehall song. I like the domestic ending the international ending is too soppy and melodramatic.
            Norma Shearer was fantastic. I love her later films because her acting was so good and so genuine. There really was never denying that she was not a good actress. In the first part of the film she played a young naïve woman looking for more out of life and in the second part she is this flamboyant Russian lady lying through her teeth about her life. The moment Shearer walks into the hotel as the Russian woman I was dying from laughing. Shearer did a fantastic job in this film I loved watching her. She did a really good job with the Russian accent. This was both a departure and not really a departure for Clark Gable. His character is a man with a rough exterior but a nice loving heart like most of his films but here he had to play that part as an actor/entertainer! Gable sings and dances to “Puttin on the Ritz” in a scene at the hotel! Yes macho Mr. Gable sings and dances and he is hilarious. This is the last time Norma Shearer and Clark Gable were paired together in a film. They are one of my favorite film pairings they had such great chemistry.
            Idiot’s Delight is a charming, funny, and somewhat dramatic film. I had such a good time watching Idiot’s Delight I cannot wait to eventually buy it on DVD.