The Rage of Paris (1938)
Genre: Romantic Comedy (slightly screwball-ish)
I put this one in my Netflix queue because it was linked to another film in the “if you like that you may like this” manner. I didn’t have great expectations for it but thought, “eh, it’s only 78 minutes and it has Douglas Fairbanks, Jr in it.” Turns out it was a good investment of my time.
Nicole (Danielle Darrieux) a down on her luck Frenchwoman in 1938 New York City, tries to get a modeling job but ends up going to the wrong place where she starts to strip off her clothes, as instructed by the modeling agency, since the photographer wants to take pictures of a model wearing only drapes. Jim Trevor (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr) is delighted with the show but quickly informs her she’s in the wrong place. Humiliated, Nicole flees the scene.
She’s late on her rent and about to be thrown out of her boarding house when an older friend, Gloria (Helen Broderick) has an idea. She’ll ask an old friend Mike (Mischa Auer), who’s the head waiter at a fancy hotel, if he’s got a job for her. Only he doesn’t. But while there, Gloria gets an idea. If Mike will front them with money he’s saved to open a restaurant, they’ll tart Nicole up then pass her off as a French debutante with Gloria acting as her aunt. With Nicole’s looks and proximity to rich men at the hotel, she’s sure to snag a rich husband and be able to pay Mike back.
Though she’s not crazy about the whole scheme, Nicole does attract the interest of Bill Duncan (Louis Hayward) and the two are soon hot and heavy. Until a chance meeting at the opera brings Bill’s old friend Jim Trevor into the picture. He immediately cottons on that something isn’t right but can’t get Bill to believe him. Determined to save Bill from this adventuress, Jim goes to great lengths to expose her game. But will he save Bill only to fall for her himself?
The film starts out a little slowly with Darrieux having to act a bit of an airhead. But she’s a determined woman and with Broderick backing her up in the “best friend” role, they make a formidable team. As the film progresses, we get to see Darrieux finally getting to show her charm and intelligence. She still might not like the idea of what she’s doing, but by God she’s determined to get the better of Jim.
Fairbanks and Hayward are two lovely men to have fighting over you. Hayward has to play the straight man who is blindly oblivious until just when he needs to be. But then it would be nice to have a rich man refusing to believe the worst of you, no? I love that Fairbanks realizes that Darrieux is up to no good and throws every road block in her path that he can think of. And it’s delightful to watch her skip over, around and under every one of them. Their scenes, as each tries to get the better of the other, are wonderful. But the “nice surprise” find of the film might be Auer who proves he’s quite an actor and one with impeccable comic timing.
The dialogue is witty, the timing and interactions of the main characters are impeccable and I ended up liking this film very much. The whole thing just sparkles and at only 78 minutes, no scene is wasted. It’s not the best screwball movie of all times, as some of the reviews I’ve read would lead me to believe, and is thoroughly predictable but it’s one that still holds up well after 70+ years – check out the lovely Art Deco decor and costumes – and goes down like a glass of champagne. The DVD is bare bones only so I’d say either rent it or watch for it on TV and I don’t think fans of the genre would be disappointed.