Cary Grant’s debut in THIS IS THE NIGHT is pretty eye-catching!
The movie “stars” Lily Damita (Mrs. Errol Flynn) but the best work is done by the ineffably unassuming Roland Young, with strong support by Grant, Thelma Todd, and Charlie Ruggles (in non-annoying mode).
There’s a running gag about Thelma getting her dress ripped off, usually when Young is around, so he can be made to seem like the culprit, a role he is hilariously ill-suited for.
We begin in Hollywood Paris, and as Lubitsch said, “There is Paramount Paris, MGM Paris, and the real Paris. Paramount Paris is the most Parisian.” It’s 1931, so the film, a romantic farce, has elements of operetta seeping in at the edges. There’s no actual songs, but a fair bit of recitative.
Cary Grant plays a javelin thrower who is also a jealous husband (dangerous combination). Young is dismayed to learn that the married woman (Todd) he’s been fooling around with (it’s a pre-code) is married to a man who throws “those murderous pointed things.” He admonishes her, “Claire, the moment you meet a man, right after you say Hello, you must say My husband throws javelins.”
Frank Tuttle directs with considerable panache — he’s an undervalued figure who could bring surprising flair to multiple genres. Without his THIS GUN FOR HIRE, there might not be any recognizable Jean-Pierre Melville.
Roland Young gets all the pussy.
Lily Damita is fine, I guess. She does a lot of acting with her breasts, wagging them in outrage or puffing them up as if to intimidate an enemy. Young is the real star, because he’s so unusual. His catchphrase is “Oh,” said with a kind of exhausted dread. Ruggles is his more energetic foil. After he’s tumbled into a canal, and Young threatens to throw him back, he says, “You can’t scare an old canal man like me.”
A small army of screenwriters hammered this thing together, affirming Preston Sturges’ complaint that Hollywood believed writers should work in teams, “like piano movers.” At least in this case, the instrument arrived at its destination gleaming and tuneful.