Caryl Dubrok (Gig Young) is a young and talented composer living in Venice at the turn of the 20th century. He’s been having a sweet romance with Fenella MacLean (Eleanor Parker), an English heiress.

(Image via Movie Poster Shop)
(Image via Movie Poster Shop)

Fenella is smitten and wishes to marry Caryl, but her parents (Reginald Denny and Isobel Elsom) have other ideas. They disapprove of the man, because they believe he is living with another woman (Ida Lupino) and her child.

Gemma, the supposed live-in “other woman,” is actually living with Caryl’s brother Sebastian (Errol Flynn), who took her in out of kindness when she had nowhere else to go. Sebastian wants to clear up the situation and offers to help Caryl explain the whole thing to the MacLeans.

By this time, the MacLeans have left for the mountains, taking Fenella away from her potentially-scandalous love. Caryl and Sebastian set out to find them, bringing Gemma and her child along in hopes to clear up the whole ordeal. Complications ensue.

Escape Me Never was directed by Peter Godfrey. The story was previously filmed in 1935 under the same title, with Elisabeth Bergner and Hugh Sinclair starring.

I probably give the hyper-critical old-time critic Bosley Crowther more attention than he deserves on this blog, but I can’t review Escape Me Never without discussing his review, which influenced my decision to watch the film. Some choice quotes:

“Agreed that Escape Me Never was no great shakes the first time around, being a trifling bit of flimflam about a small lady’s loyalty to a cad. As now performed by Miss Lupino as the lady and by Errol Flynn as the cad, it becomes something harsh and unbelievable, like a terrible faux-pas in a grade-school play.”

“Miss Lupino is downright embarrassing, the way she bounces and kitty-cats around, alternately clutching an infant and Mr. Flynn to her heaving breast.”

“The script is a frightful thing.”

“Peter Godfrey’s so-called direction is cause for a damage suit against the whole retinue of Warner Brothers by the exploited members of the cast — among whom, incidentally, Eleanor Parker has our deepest sympathy.”

It’s an unbelievably harsh review that nearly left me in tears from laughing too hard. So-called direction! Grade-school play! Frightful thing! Deepest sympathy! Crowther was known for being very cruel at times in his reviews, and he was clearly in rare form when cooking up this one.

Convincing myself that surely it couldn’t be that bad, I was delighted to discover that Escape Me Never was available on Warner Archive Instant when I subscribed in December.

I enjoyed this film very much as it began. Lupino as Gemma is fast-talking, full of energy, and gets the chance to sing a couple of songs; Errol Flynn emits buckets of charm, as usual, though his character is indeed a cad; Gig Young and Eleanor Parker’s early romantic scenes are sweet. Even as the Dubroks and Gemma begin their journey into the mountains, the film’s mood is bright and the pace is quick, making for a solid midcentury rom-com.

(Image via Doctor Macro)
(Image via Doctor Macro)

This continues on for about the first hour of the film, a little love triangle thrown in but not enough drama to bring down the mood. Gemma’s devotion to the unworthy Sebastian does get a bit tedious as the film continues on, but there’s a larger problem with Escape Me Never: a serious shift in tone over half-way through that tosses the viewer from the cheerful land of romantic comedy to the dark and shadowy land of tragic drama.

The film loses a lot of its humor, and for everything that should have happened for the story to continue its original trajectory, the opposite occurs. In theory, this could have been interesting, starting the film out as a standard romantic comedy and turning the genre’s formula on its head. But the script of Escape Me Never suffers after the tonal shift. Instead of challenging the conventions of the genre it started out in, it simply slithers its way into the conventions of romantic drama. On a brighter note, there is a great confrontation scene between Lupino and Powell, and some very snippy dialogue on Lupino’s part.

Escape Me Never is not as bad as Bosley Crowther would have you believe, but it certainly isn’t a perfect film. I wouldn’t call the script a “frightful thing,” but it has its issues. The performances deserve more credit than Crowther’s sympathies and second-hand embarrassment. When all is said and done, it’s a middle-of-the-road tale of complicated romances. The score: 2.5/5