Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA, 1932. Paramount Pictures. Screenplay by Benjamin Glazer, George Marion Jr., based on the play by Henry Falk, Avery Hopwood, René Peter. Cinematography by Victor Milner. Produced by Benjamin Glazer. Music by Ralph Rainger, W. Franke Harling, John Leipold. Costume Design by Eugene Joseff.
Cary Grant is instantly a matinee idol in his film debut, playing a javelin-throwing Olympic athlete who comes home early from the games only to find his wife (Thelma Todd) entertaining Roland Young in their apartment. We know that the two are lovers, we just saw them attend a black-tie affair together where Todd’s dress was accidentally torn off her body when it got caught in a car door (a very funny running joke of Young’s chauffeur constantly denuding Todd runs through the rest of the film), but she protests innocence in order to avoid her husband’s wrath.
Todd has in her possession two train tickets for a romantic trip to Venice, which with some desperate thinking on both their parts they tell Grant are a surprise for the married couple. Young announces that he also plans to join them with his own wife, but the trouble is he doesn’t have one, and has to come up with one quickly. He finds a poor young woman (Lili Damita) and pays her to play his devoted spouse on the trip, promising to keep his hands to himself when they are in private but requesting that she behave as if fully devoted to him when they are being observed. Seems like the perfect plan to allow the adulterous lovers to hide their affair in plain sight, except that Grant has a hard time buying this story, and Todd becomes insanely jealous of the beard that Young has hired. Once they arrive in Venice, all manner of complications arise, including Damita turning out to be hard to resist for both Young and his friend (Charles Ruggles), who has also joined the voyage.
Once the Hayes code was implemented a few years after this film was released, sex comedies would be inspired to impose a rigid structure on screenplays that could tease the moral conventions that the code demanded without breaking them (something Preston Sturges would bring to its apex of quality with his own outstanding comedies of remarriage); until then, films like This Is the Night would employ a more amorphous exploration of sexual jealousy and frustration, the way the characters are constantly warring with each other almost feels like a kind of innocent intercourse here, and the outcome has more to do with helping them find a peaceful resolution to their problems without any particular concern for the sanctity of marriage. The performances are remarkable, Todd and first-billed Damita deliver glamour and intense charisma, while Grant, who has yet to develop the debonair man about town that would arrive with The Awful Truth five years later, shows no lack of confidence his first time on the big screen.