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The Forgotten Man of The Golden Age: Part II

With the 1930s drawing to a close, Mitchell Leisen was at his creative and commercial peak. He worked with writers Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder on three celebrated movies in as many years. The fi...

With the 1930s drawing to a close, Mitchell Leisen was at his creative and commercial peak. He worked with writers Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder on three celebrated movies in as many years.

The first of these, the 1939 comedy Midnight, is considered to be one of Leisen’s finest works. It features Claudette Colbert as a grifting American showgirl in Paris, who impersonates a Hungarian Baroness to get her man. The magnificent sets of Midnight had by now become something of a Leisen trademark. The following year’s Arise, My Love again featured Colbert in the very different role of a pugnacious reporter in Fascist Spain. Its wartime setting makes for a politically informed black comedy.

The last of the Wilder/Brackett collaborations was the terse drama, Hold Back the Dawn, featuring Olivia de Havilland as a naïve schoolteacher duped into marriage by a Romanian seeking asylum in the US. Critically acclaimed, it garnered six Academy Award® nominations.

Darker, and more controversial, drama was to follow in 1946’s To Each His Own, the tale of a small-town girl who gives up her illegitimate child and is forced to love him from afar. Even though the script was rejected by the Hays Office, Leisen shot the film regardless. The delicate handling of the sensitive subject matter saw the film passed and lead actress Olivia de Havilland picked up a Best Actress Oscar® for her incredible performance.

But while his former collaborators prospered, Leisen’s career, sadly, began to wane in the late 1940s. He still continued to demonstrate his innate visual flair and ability to coax great performances from actors. Barbara Stanwyck shines as the identity-stealing survivor of a train-wreck in 1950’s terrific noir thriller No Man of Her Own.

That he was able to slickly transfer his skills to another genre at this late stage of his career speaks volumes for a forgotten talent that EIFF audiences can rediscover.

The films mentioned above, and other Leisen greats, are screening at noon daily throughout the EIFF.

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