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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

PETER IBBETSON (1935)


A fascinating, if not quite successful, dark romantic fantasy about childhood sweethearts (Dickie Moore & Virginia Weidler are the kids who grow up to be Gary Cooper & Ann Harding) who are torn apart only to meet again as adults. But now a sadistic husband (John Halliday) and la forza del destino separate them once again. Only their ability to ‘dream-true’ as one holds them in a mystical bond of metaphysical love. The stage play (adapted by co-star Constance Collier from a once popular George du Maurier novel) was a huge hit for young John Barrymore at his most poetic; the ladies swooned at matinees. Helmer Henry Hathaway worked well with Coop, but was a bit rough & ready for a film that cries out for the quasi-religious romantic fatalism of a Frank Borzage.* But even with the bumps in execution, there’s a lot of chemistry between Coop & the underrated Harding, along with a remarkably effective background score from Ernst Toch and staggering atmospheric lensing from Charles Lang.

*Borzage would come to Paramount the following year to direct Coop & Halliday, along with Marlene Dietrich, in DESIRE/’36. Yet that romantic comedy is more like the work of its producer, Ernst Lubitsch, than of Borzage. That’s Hollywood.

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