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Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees • Location: Athens, Georgia
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Fantasy Box Set #7: Charles Boyer
June 22nd, 2005 7:51AM

With his dark good looks, French accent, smooth manner, and chocolatey voice, Charles Boyer was a natural in romantic leading roles; his performances in such films as The Garden of Allah and Algiers (1938) cemented his status as a screen lover. But he had a flair for comedy, as can be seen in Love Affair (1939), one of his seminal roles, and Ernst Lubitsch’s Cluny Brown (1946). He could also play off his romantic image effectively, as he does in one of his finest performances: as the unscrupulous husband in Gaslight, which is fortunately available on DVD. His career started with French films like the beautiful romantic tragedy Mayerling (1936), which itself demands a DVD release, and extended through a sly supporting role in Barefoot in the Park and beyond. And even though he fought against his great-lover screen image, few actors could match him for romantic charisma. Even fewer can now.

There are many Boyer films that deserve to be rediscovered. Here are the five that I want most to see on DVD. (Some of them are repeats from previous fantasy box sets--but worth repeating.)

1. Tovarich, 1937. Boyer stars with compatriot Claudette Colbert (who had furthered his American movie career by urging him to learn English) in this delightful comedy about former Russian aristocrats who take jobs as butler and maid for a kooky American family. It’s kind of like My Man Godfrey, but with sinister Basil Rathbone sniffing around, looking to stir up trouble. Charming fun, and really shows off Boyer’s comedic talent.

2. History Is Made at Night, 1937. An unusual mix of melodrama and romantic comedy--a mix that doesn’t work for everyone, but I’m very fond of the end result. Boyer is a headwaiter, Jean Arthur (The More the Merrier) the unhappy ex-wife of pathologically jealous Colin Clive (Frankenstein), and the two embark on a troubled romance. The climactic sequence takes place on an ocean liner that is deliberately reminiscent of the Titanic. Bookended by atmospheric sequences, and very romantic.

3. All This, and Heaven Too, 1940. A glorious period tearjerker featuring Boyer in a sensitive performance as a French aristocrat saddled with a neurotic harpy of a wife (Barbara O’Neil, who won an Oscar for being so totally unbearable). He finds himself drawn to his children’s gentle governess, Bette Davis, and many yearning glances ensue--plus murder! Davis and Boyer may seem like an unlikely couple, but their story is truly romantic and touching, and Davis is effectively understated. It’s a crime that this hasn’t been released on DVD.

4. Hold Back the Dawn, 1941. I also put this title in my Olivia de Havilland fantasy set, but Boyer’s performance in it is so good it would be wrong to leave it out of his own set. Boyer stars as a shady European who marries innocent schoolteacher de Havilland to get U.S. residency--and then ends up falling in love with her. Paulette Goddard is terrific as Boyer’s smokin’ hot old flame, who wants him for herself. I believe this to be one of the finest romantic dramas of the era, with moving performances and an intriguing glimpse into the lives of foreigners huddled together in a Mexican border town as they wait for admittance into the U.S. Boyer manages to parody his romantic screen image while taking it to new heights. Simply wonderful.

5. A Woman’s Vengeance, 1948. The title gives too much away, but this is still a fine suspense film. Boyer’s horrible wife dies soon after he falls in love with lovely young Ann Blyth, and he’s sentenced to death for murder. Longtime friend Jessica Tandy knows something that can free him--but will she come forward in time to save his life? Boyer does a fine job in a departure from his more usual suave roles; here he engages our sympathy as a man who doesn’t possess control of his own life. It’s also an interesting counterpart, plotwise, to All This, and Heaven Too.

Coming soon: Fantasy Boxed Set #8--Bette Davis Bitch Box! (Idea suggested by Judge George Hatch)


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