Irene Vail (Jean Arthur) is married to American shipping mogul Bruce Vail (Colin Clive), but she won’t be for long. She’s planning to divorce him. She’s tired of his repeated false accusations that she’s having affairs, and that she married him for money.
Bruce isn’t quite ready to give up the marriage yet, though. He wants to blackmail her into staying with him. He hatches a plan for her chauffer, Michael (Ivan Lebedeff), to put her in a compromising position, forcing her to either drop her divorce suit or be publicly humiliated.
Irene’s in luck, however. On the night Bruce’s plan is supposed to hatch, Michael shows up at her hotel room, but is foiled by a jewel thief!
The jewel thief is Paul Dumond (Charles Boyer), not a jewel thief at all but a headwaiter, who saw what Michael was trying to do and decided to help Irene by “stealing” her jewelry and “kidnapping” her. After Paul and Irene leave the hotel, they spend the entire evening together, dining and dancing until morning.
By the time they part ways, Irene and Paul are smitten, but Bruce still won’t get the hint and leave Irene alone. Will Irene and Paul find their happily ever after, or will she remain trapped in her unhappy marriage to Bruce?
History is Made at Night was directed by Frank Borzage. The screenplay was written by Gene Towne and Graham Baker with additional dialogue by Vincent Lawrence and David Hertz.
Charles Boyer is always full of charm, but is the exceptionally clear choice when pitted against an unloving almost-ex husband who’s trying to swindle his wife out of her final decree. Even if Paul had turned out to be a legitimate jewel thief, he’d probably still be an upgrade from Bruce!
Boyer is everything: smooth, charming, handsome, affectionate, and of course, French. The romance between he and Arthur sparkles like the champagne they share on their first night together. It didn’t take much for this pair to win me over. A bit of friendly banter and barefoot dancing in the middle of a restaurant, and I was entirely sold.
While some other genres (drama, a bit of crime and blackmail) are worked in, at its heart, History is Made at Night is a romance, and a fabulous one. The film is strongest in its most swoon-worthy moments, but engaging the whole way through, and much of the drama is very effective. (That shipwreck!)
I also greatly enjoyed the super-supportive friendship between Paul and his chef pal, Cesare (Leo Carrillo). The scenes between them are almost as fun as those between Boyer and Arthur, especially once they make their way to New York City.
History is Made at Night is one of my favorite film discoveries of the year so far, and is going straight on my must-buy DVD list. I genuinely didn’t expect some of the paths it took. It’s seriously heart-wrenching and lovely. A new favorite!