Mill Creek Musings: The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)

American journalist Charles Wills (Van Johnson) works for the Stars and Stripes newspaper. He’s in Paris, covering a story about the VE day celebration marking the end of the second World War.

(Image via shop.tcm.com)

(Image via shop.tcm.com)

Outside of a local cafe owned by his friend Maurice, he meets Helen Elliswirth (Elizabeth Taylor), a beautiful American woman who has spent the war years in Paris with her father (Walter Pidgeon) and sister (Donna Reed). Before they’ve even said a word to one another she kisses him, excited about the war’s end. The two quickly fall for each other, and shortly after the war, they marry.

Living on the small wage earned by Charles as a reporter for the news wire service, the couple is just getting by, but they have better hopes for the future. When he isn’t busy hoofing it around the city to report the news, Charles is working on his novel, which he hopes will be a great success… if he ever gets around to finishing it, and finding a publisher.

As they strive to make ends meet and Charles holds tight to his literary aspirations, a series of personal dramas push the couple apart.

The Last Time I Saw Paris was directed by Richard Brooks for MGM. The film is loosely based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story Babylon Revisited, updating the setting to post-war Paris.

The cast of this film is stellar. Van Johnson, Donna Reed, Walter Pidgeon, and of course the legendary Elizabeth Taylor. All of them give performances that are quite good.

Johnson is ever-so-slightly miscast as the self-destructive, self-pitying writer who lives at the center of this story. He does a fine job in the role, but I can think of at least a handful of other actors who would have been better-suited to this type of character, and brought in a more brooding quality that would have elevated the film. (Monty Clift, for example, would have been great.)

Taylor is, as usual, captivating. Donna Reed also impresses as Marion, Helen’s sister.

The Last Time I Saw Paris has that MGM touch: beautiful technicolor photography, and a very glossy finish to the film despite the sometimes very dark subject matter. The result is a film that is very stylish, but feels a little shallow, emotionally.

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

(Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

The film is also a bit slowly paced, making it feel over-long, though it runs at one hour and fifty-five minutes in the Mill Creek print, which isn’t exceptionally long at all.

I enjoyed the cast and performances in this film, but I can’t say I loved it on the whole. There are better films to watch from all of the filmographies of the very talented cast members. Color photography and big-name stars can’t save a turtle-paced story! The score: 1.5/5

If you’re interested in watching this film, it is available in Mill Creek’s Nifty Fifties box set. The quality of the print in this set is quite good for a public domain flick. The film is also available through the Internet Archive.

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