Lionsgate // 1948 // 132 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // October 14th, 2008
"History has no special accomodations for lovers."
We'll always have Paris. We'll also always have doomed romances in movies. Casablanca set the standard for tragic wartime romance, but Rick and Ilsa weren't moviedom's only war-crossed lovers. Take Ravic and Joan in Arch of Triumph, for instance. Based on All Quiet on the Western Front author Erich Maria Remarque's novel, the 1948 movie is set in Paris in the days before the Nazis took over France.
Ravic (Charles Boyer, Gaslight), a German refugee who works illegally as a doctor in Paris, has flashbacks when he sees the German torturer (Charles Laughton, The Man on the Eiffel Tower) who killed the woman he loved. So he doesn't want to fall for Joan (Ingrid Bergman, Gaslight), the beautiful singer he found wandering in the rain. Ravic gets Joan a job in a nightclub, but when he turns up, Joan sees Ravic with another woman. Still, Joan wants Ravic.
Unfortunately, so do the authorities. When Ravic stops to help a woman in an accident, the police have a few questions for him, questions he cannot answer. Ravic, sent back to Germany, pines for Joan, but he returns to find her in a relationship. He also finds that the torturer is still in Paris, and the Nazis are getting closer.
"Please may I keep the light on," Joan asks Ravic when she stays the night alone in his room in a refugee hotel.
"I wasn't going to turn it off. I know that feeling," he tells her.
Arch of Triumph is about that feeling, from the first moment of Ravic in a restaurant, a face instantly changing him from contented diner to terrified survivor. Joan keeps her habit of sleeping with the lights on throughout the movie. Although he seems callous, Ravic's reluctance to get close to Joan stems from that feeling of fear. In a discussion in a restaurant, Ravic wants to forget their first meeting. That feeling also leads Ravic to seek revenge against the Nazi torturer. When he finally meets the man, Ravic is cold as ice, calmly, genially planning a night on the town with his "friend" while contemplating murder.
Both Ravic and Joan deal with death before that point: he's a "ghost surgeon" who has lost a patient who'd been to see a quack, and she fled her hotel room when her ill lover died.
In the hands of Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, the cold refugee and the warm, tearful woman he comes to love become real human beings. Bergman grows the most; her emotions are hollow at first, but begin to blossom after she meets Ravic. While I could tell that Joan loved Ravic immediately from Bergman's expressions, Boyer's face told me that Ravic's reciprocal love was coming more gradually. I could tell it had arrived from Boyer's expression when he returned to the club, only to see Joan with another man, just as she'd seen him with another woman earlier.
The resulting story is moving, but it's also sad. Don't expect the hopeful feeling that Humphrey Bogart left audiences with at the end of Casablanca.
The famed arch is seen in the movie as characters walk or drive past, but only in stock footage and process shots. This is Hollywood in the studio era, after all.
Lionsgate didn't do this edition of Arch of Triumph justice. The transfer comes from the UCLA Film Archive, and it's full of flecks and spots. Moreover, the noirish shadows seem to shroud more of the picture than intended in darkness. Some scenes will be hard to read, as in, "Is that the same character I saw before?" The sound's okay, though.
If you're looking for extras, you might as well forget it.
Fans of noir or the leads might find Arch of Triumph intriguing, but
the poor transfer and lack of extras would make it a bad purchase for all but
the most hardcore film buffs. Guilty of squandering an opportunity to bring a
lost classic to new life.
Review content copyright © 2008 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 132 Minutes
Release Year: 1948
MPAA Rating: Not Rated