13 June 2004 | EightyProof45
The Ultimate Screwball Comedy
Although it is rarely cited by critics, The Rage of Paris is one of the breeziest and most charming of all of Hollywood's screwball comedies. It stars the lovely French superstar Danielle Darrieux in her greatest American role and second-generation Hollywood legend Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Screwball films are famous for their attempts to push the censors to the limit. And The Rage of Paris does this amazingly. This type of comedy came about as a result of the Production Code, and the screenwriters and directors tried to go as far towards risqué as possible in them.
This picture begins with a young wanna-be model, Nicole (Darrieux). She is given an assignment to pose for a photographer, but she objects to the clothing (actually the lack of clothing) she is being asked to pose with. So the boss asks another model to come into his office to offer her the job. Nicole overhears the salary the model is going to get, and she changes her mind. While the boss and the new model discuss the job, Nicole sneaks over to the boss' desk and grabs what she thinks is the address of the photographer. But, she grabs the wrong address. Instead, she winds up at the office of Mr. Trevor (Fairbanks). Told by his secretary to "make herself comfortable" until Mr. Trevor arrives, she misconstrues and is in the process of undressing when he enters. It is perhaps the finest "meet-cute" in film history. When she finally realizes she got the wrong address, she leaves the office and returns to her dump-of-a boarding house, where her best friend Gloria lives.
Both desperate for money, Gloria and Nicole enlist the help of a head-waiter, Mike, to help them out. He has been saving some money to open his own restaurant, and he has $3,000 in the bank. Gloria proposes a scheme: use that money to buy Nicole some nice clothes, put her up in the hotel, and try to set her up with a rich husband; then, if they succeed, they will return his $3,000 and throw in the extra $2,000 he needs to open his restaurant. Reluctantly, Mike goes along with it.
The man they decide to "catch" with their beautiful bait is Bill Duncan, who "has ten million dollars and owns half of Canada." In a hilarious meeting, Nicole "accidentally" mistakes Bill for her old next-door neighbor. She runs up to him, kisses him, and talks excitedly in French. He tells her she is mistaken, and, embarrassed, she drops a glove and runs back to her room. Bill picks up the glove and begins to follow Nicole...the scheme has worked, and the next thing they know, Bill takes Nicole to the opera. It looks as though everything is going according to plan.
At the opera, Bill sees his best friend whom he hasn't met in a long time. He brings him back to his box, anxious to introduce him to his French aristocratic girlfriend. But it just so happens that his best friend is James Trevor, the same man Nicole was accidentally stripping for three weeks earlier. Instead of revealing her secret to his friend, James decides to see how the situation plays out.
Eventually, he tries to tell Bill about Nicole, but Bill believes James is lying and only wants the beauty for himself. In haste, Bill agrees to marry the girl. At their engagement-announcement dinner, however, James 'kidnaps' her. He takes her to his secluded country home, and the two fall in love.
She hitch-hikes back to the city, where Bill has found out the truth about her. And since he will no longer marry her, the door is open for James!
The story is typical of the times. Once Nicole is disrobed in front of Mr. Trevor, the audience knows they will fall in love. It's inevitable. But it is also so much fun watching it happen!
Furthermore, the entire cast is sensational. In fact, it is one of the most perfectly cast films of all time. Towering above all is the delectable Danielle Darrieux! She is absolutely ideal, using her continental French personality to drive men mad. The way she dictates to Gloria what she wants to eat for breakfast is lovely. It is such a simple moment, yet the actress manages to turn it into one of the most memorable parts of the film. Still, the highlight is her pouty foibles at the home of James Trevor. Her facial expressions when she sees the two-sided photograph and her experience with the troublesome window are totally captivating.
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. is the quintessential debonair leading man. His performance here is one of his finest. His concern for his friend, as well as his slow albeit sure fall into Nicole's charms, make the character quite memorable. As Gloria, Helen Broderick is the cynical sidekick par excellence. And Mischa Auer suits the role of the headwaiter, Mike, so well, that it's hard to imagine another actor doing the part. Louis Hayward, playing Bill Trevor, gives one of the film's finest performances. And Harry Davenport has a part in the funniest portion of the movie, as the eccentric caretaker of James' country house.
The sets are art deco dreams, particularly the hotel rooms and the hotel room doors. Darrieux's magnificent wardrobe accents the star's unbelievable figure, too. Quite honestly, Danielle Darrieux might be the most beautiful woman who has ever lived, and this film, made when she was a young and glorious twenty years old, captures her joie de vivre for all time. The direction is swift and deft, but it's the script that really provides the basis for the film's charm. The writing and scenario are both perfect, and at about 78 minutes, the film is fast and fun.
Go to the ends of the earth to find this film. Buy it, watch it over and over again, and pass it on to everyone you know. It is the one film that will turn just about anybody on to classic films, and it ranks up top with Bringing Up Baby, The Awful Truth, It Happened One Night, and The Lady Eve as one of the five greatest screwball comedies of all time.