Peter Ibbetson (1935)

HENRY HATHAWAY

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

USA, 1935. . Screenplay by , , adaptation by , additional scenes by , , based on the novel by and the play by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

What seems to begin as a male Jane Eyre bildungsroman soon turns into a romantic melodrama that then veers into supernatural hogwash, but if you’re invested in the luscious period details and the glamorous stars, you might be glad you stuck your way through it.

Little Gogo () loves his next door neighbour Mimsey () and is distraught when he must leave Paris after his mother’s death and go live with his uncle in England. Years later, he is working as an architect at a prestigious firm under his proper name Peter (played by ) and is assigned to design new stables for a nobleman’s estate outside of London. He arrives on the property and immediately is in immediate conflict with the Duke’s wife Mary (), but once they find the middle of the road they discover a great deal about each other: not only that they are in love, but that they didn’t until now recognize each other as the children who had been deeply attached so many years ago.

Peter wants the duchess to run away with him, but she believes it would be better if she remained in her loveless marriage and serve her duty; the Duke (), who has discovered the treachery that is happening behind his back, has other plans and things go horribly wrong, resulting in the two lovers being separated for good. They don’t really live apart for the rest of their lives, however, because before being separated they discovered that they have the ability to meet each other in their dreams, and continue to do so for years and into their old age as we watch them grasp each other in embraces while surrounded by mist and fog. Imagine if that one line in Charlotte Bronte’s book, in which Jane believes she hears Rochester calling to her across miles of grim English landscape to come back to him, were turned into an entire movie and you have what passes for touching romantic tragedy in this beautifully photographed, well acted but thoroughly ridiculous film.

Cooper and Harding make an odd pairing, but neither of them ever try to justify this or attempt to make sense of the giant suspension of disbelief demanded of the viewer by this story; playing it wholly straight and sincere, they avoid embarrassing themselves and at least inspire our sympathy for the characters’ horrible luck that has been brought on by their good intentions. Based on the novel by George Du Maurier, grandfather of Rebecca author Daphne du Maurier.

Academy Award Nomination: Best Score

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