23 May 2015 | SimonJack
Quirkiness is overboard in this early WW II film
This 1941 comedy romance is set in London and Lisbon before the U.S. entered World War II. Made by Paramount in Hollywood, it has some scenes of the bombing of London; and the studio did a good job creating a very British looking set for wartime England. It's important to note this aspect of the film because it's the premise for the meeting of the two stars, and for a later entanglement over espionage that takes place in Lisbon. Ergo, the film's title, "One Night in Lisbon."
Fred MacMurray plays Dwight Houston from Texas (where else?). He's a civilian pilot, apparently a member of the ferry service that was flying American-made bombers over to England to help the Allies with the war before the U.S. entered the war. Madeleine Carroll plays a Scottish woman, Leonora Perrycoate. Her parents have retreated to their Scotland estate during the bombing of London. She resides in their considerable London digs with a maid, Florence, played by Lady May Witty, who is to look after her. Leonora has a British suitor, Navy Commander Peter Walmsley (played by John Loder), so all the ingredients are there for a screwball comedy.
But Paramount put too much into this film to make it work well. The story and script bounce all over the place. MacMurray and Carroll do well with their roles, but the characters don't quite work. He is almost oblivious to the war going on around them, and is too flippant about it to be believed. He calls her "Steve," after some far-fetched cockamamie story about their reincarnation. Both characters are very quirky – too much so. Which then detracts from the humor that's in the script – what there is of it. The film focuses more on their quirkiness at the expense of a clever, witty and funny script. And, the goofy shenanigans are just slightly that and not very funny. The best lines in the film are uttered by the supporting cast – Edmund Gwen as Lord Fitzleigh and Billie Burke as Catherine Enfilden.
This movie is based on a British play that had to be much better on stage than on film. Hollywood at the time was making British stage plays into films as a way to support Britain's war efforts. The movie has a couple of good patriotic scenes that are clearly intended as propaganda. The film that I saw was in rough shape and had poor quality. It's a stretch to give this film six stars, but I do so for the supporting cast and the comedy that works.