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HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941)

Hold Back The Dawn - Cover'Arrow Academy' have recently released a digitally enhanced version of 'Hold Back The Dawn'. It was directed by Mitchell Leisen; it starred Charles Boyer, Olivia de Havilland, and Paulette Goddard; and it's 116-minutes long. Plus, as an extra added bonus, the Blu-ray edition comes with audio commentary provided by Adrian Martin, an image gallery, a visual essay narrated by Geoff Andrew, a rare hour-long radio adaptation broadcast in 1941, as well as an interview with De Havilland recorded at the National Film Theatre in 1971 (audio only). Please enjoy.


Hold Back The Dawn [Arrow Academy]


THE STORY:
Now I don’t know if you know this or not, but it can take a foreigner up to eight whole years to gain legal entry into the United States. Yeah. No word of a lie. Although in my case, I did find a way of cutting it down to a more manageable length.

You see, some time ago, I decided to travel to America in order to see how much money I could swindle out of the locals. But alas, as soon as I reached the Mexican border, my path was suddenly blocked by bureaucracy, legislation, and a load of red tape. So, to give myself some time to figure out how I could get around this mess, I rented a room in a nearby hotel, The Hotel Esperanza, until something came along. Or should I say, someone came along? Namely, Anita, Anita Dixon (Paulette Goddard), my old partner in crime, who gave me a bit of advice on how to reduce my waiting time. 

Well, according to her, the best thing I could do was to find an American woman and marry her so I could become a fully fledged citizen. Any woman would suffice, just as long as she was ready, willing, and able to fall in love with yours truly, Georges Iscovescu (Charles Boyer), the Romanian gigolo. 

So, what did I do? Did I ignore Anita's advice or did I embrace it? Either way, that’s most probably why what next transpires goes bang, kiss, honk, when I bump into a pretty schoolteacher named Emmy Brown (Olivia de Havilland). As two strangers swiftly fall in love - a honeymoon gets a quick Mexican shove - a car flies like a damaged turtle dove - and at the end of the day, please remember, marriage will always be a gift sent from above. 




THE REVIEW:
No matter what your opinions are on the subject of immigration, all in all, I’d say ‘Hold Back The Dawn’ was a truly fascinating film because it manages to tell a well-balanced parable that tries its best to convey both sides of the political argument. On the one hand, it presents us with a selection of foreign characters who are either fairly pleasant or fairly deceitful. While, on the other, it depicts a flawed American immigration system with some good people behind it.

Hold Back The Dawn - Charles Boyer, Olivia de Havilland, and Paulette Goddard
Although, where the actual story is concerned, its overall construction can easily be broken down into a three-act play, with each act pushing the narrative forward in incremental and progressive stages. Act One, for instance, establishes the characters (all of them), the setting (Mexico), and the basic premise (i.e. a gigolo trying to trick a woman into marrying him so he can gain entry into her country). Whereas Act Two, swiftly throws a spanner in the works by forcing the two main protagonists (Emmy and Georges) to explore each other’s motives and feelings via an unexpected Road Trip. And as for Act Three? Well, without giving too much away, dilemmas are eventually resolved (kinda), characters are nicely redefined (allegedly), and the whole thing is finally put to bed in a kind yet poetic fashion (no comment).

Please note, though, that carefully placed within this three-act structure are three smaller subplots which complement the main tale -- tonally, at least -- by emphasizing the one thing they all have in common. That being, the theme of foreigners who plan to enter the United States for a better life. Now, one of these subplots shines a spotlight on a pregnant woman (played magnificently by Rosemary DeCamp) who wants to reach America before her child is born; while another features a charming family who can’t wait to get there either (featuring a fairly even performance by Victor Francen). Finally, the third subplot is far more jovial by design, as it revolves around a man (played by Curt Bois) who tries to prove that he has American ancestry in order to gain admission.


Hold Back The Dawn - Charles Boyer and Olivia de Havilland


Come to think of it, while I’m on the topic of design, that reminds me of this film’s overall look and tone. Well, on a dramatic level, the story does manage to blend together a variety of different conflicting emotions and behaviors, ranging from funny one-liners, to ironic prose, to romantic interludes. While, on a visual level, everything we see is aesthetically synergistic in terms of environments and styles, including shabby chic furnishings, rustic abodes, and grand and operatic landscapes. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you, because what we see and hear has its place and is in no way obstructive to the story being told.

Hold Back The Dawn - Movie Poster
Anyway, that's enough of that for the time being, because now would be a pretty good time for us to sit back, relax, and check out the following filmic facts: (1) 'Paramount' first released this production in New York, New York, on the exact same day Germany commissioned the development of the U-587 submarine. It was on the 11th of September, 1941. (2) Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder were hired to adapt the screenplay for this film from a novel written by Ketti Frings published in 1940. By and large, Charles and Billy are generally best known for writing such screen-classics as 'Sunset Boulevard', 'The Lost Weekend', and 'The Major and the Minor'. (3) To follow on from my previous point, and you might like to know that in 1939, Ketti Frings married the Hollywood agent, Kurt Frings, who famously managed the careers of such Hollywood stars as Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Lucille Ball. Coincidentally, the two of them were of Jewish descent, and they spent some time in a Mexican border town after escaping from Nazi Germany. (4) Loosely translated, this project was entitled 'The Night is so Short' in Sweden, 'Gate to the Centuries' in Czechoslovakia, and during post-production, it was given two working titles: 'Memo to a Movie Director' and 'The Golden Door'. (5) The majority of this film was shot inside two different studios: Paramount Studios, located at 5555 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood, and The Paramount Ranch, located at 2813 Cornell Road, Agoura. Although some scenes were also shot on location, most notably, the Los Angeles USC Medical Center, as well as the Mexican city of Tijuana, Baja California Norte. (6) Two songs were commissioned and published to help this melodrama reach a wider audience, they were, "Hold Back the Dawn" by Richard Loring & Steven Cross, and "A Sinner Kissed an Angel" by Ray Joseph & Mack David. (7) From 1941 to 1950, a radio version of this production was broadcast by a variety of American stations, including "The Screen Guild Theater", "The Academy Award Theater", "The Screen Director's Playhouse", and "The Lux Radio Theater". (8) At the start of the film, we are presented with a scene where Iscovescu makes his way onto a soundstage in order to speak to a director. The director he speaks to is the same director who made this film, Mitchell Leisen, and the film he's rehearsing prior to being interrupted was called 'Wanted Wings', also directed by Leisen, and starred Veronica Lake and Richard Webb.


Hold Back The Dawn - Charles Boyer and Paulette Goddard


In closing my review of ‘Hold Back The Dawn’, I would just like to say how much I enjoyed watching the performances given by all of the main actors. Charles Boyer, for instance, plays Iscovescu with the right amount of aloofness and Parisian charm that it’s easy to like him and despise him at any given turn. Whereas Paulette Goddard, on the other hand, plays Anita with a similar amount of ambiguity and devilish spirit. Although, in her case, she seems far more desperate in comparison, desperate to win his affections from the star of the show, Olivia de Havilland. Well, let’s face it, Olivia is a truly magnificent actress, and in my opinion, she was very believable at playing Emmy, the dainty schoolteacher. After all, she was stern when she had to be stern, lovable when she had to be lovable, and most importantly of them all, she was naive too, very naive, and slowly sold us on the idea that a woman would be willing to marry a man she only met two hours previously.

Hold Back The Dawn - Charles Boyer, Olivia de Havilland, and Paulette Goddard
But on second thoughts, can we fully buy into this idea? Can we fully believe that a man and a woman can fall in love and get married within a two-hour time frame? Personally, I don’t think so, not totally, anyway, because the vast majority of people wouldn’t be open to this type of outlandish opportunity! Not unless they were free spirits who wanted to escape the confinements of their own miserable reality. Which Emmy did, up to a point, as she occasionally insinuated that she wanted to get away from her job and the small town she was living in. In any event, this subject is always up for debate, that’s for sure, despite there not being a definitive answer that can prove movie-love is the same as real-love.

Having said that, though, there were a couple of things featured in this film which made the story moderately more believable! Things like the unobtrusive voice-over narration (which added an extra layer of context to what we saw on screen); the way everything was sandwiched in between two Hollywood styled bookends (which gave the pretext a slightly more mythological perspective); as well as the inclusion of the Inspector Hammock character, as played by Walter Abel (which smartly connected together the people, the themes, and the numerous messages conveyed within this movie). A classic movie, and one I would most definitely recommend.

THE RATING: A

HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941) HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941) Reviewed by David Andrews on July 15, 2019 Rating: 5

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