Idiot’s Delight (1939)

  • This movie opens at the end of World War I. “THAT CERTAIN DAY!” the screen exclaims.
  • Harry (Clark Gable) kisses (yes, full on the mouth) not one, but four nurses goodbye as he checks out of the US Military Hospital. “One day,” one of the nurses says to the others, “he’s gonna be the biggest star on Broadway!”
  • It’s weird they cast Clark Gable as a dancer/singer – considering all of the popular dancer/singers there were to choose from, in the late thirties. I mean – sure, it’s possible that no actor was more popular than Gable – but usually he appears in, you know, other…more Gable-ish roles.
  • (Don’t get me wrong – it’s pretty entertaining to see Gable doing Vaudevillian routines and song & dance numbers. Who knew such footage existed?)
  • So Norma Shearer is this cute little acrobat named Irene (which is funny, because so far her character’s persona reminds me a lot of another Irene – Bullock, played by Carole Lombard in MY MAN GODFREY (1936)). This Irene seems every bit as infatuated with her subject (Gable) as that Irene seemed with hers (William Powell). Anyway, Harry meets her while she’s opening for his psychic act in Omaha.
  • Hahaha. The pair goes out to dinner, then go their separate ways once they return to their hotel (his call, not hers). When he eventually gets back to his room…Irene is in it. Harry demands to know how she got in. “All of the keys in this hotel fit all the doors” she says.

High. Quality.

  • After Omaha, Harry & Irene head off in different directions…but not before Harry buys Irene a souvenir from the Omaha train station (for 75 whole cents!). “What is it?” asks Irene. “I don’t know what it is – you hang neckties on it, I guess!” Harry replies.

Haha! How romantic. A necktie holder that says “Omaha, Nebraska.”

  • Their train station goodbye is pretty cute – you get the feeling that Harry genuinely cares for Irene now, too.
  • Ten years pass, and now Harry is traveling across Europe (on the brink of World War II) with an act that consists of him & 6 blondes.
  • On the way to Geneva, their train is halted, and they are forced to stay in a small mountain town, featuring a beautiful – but vacant – hotel.

“It’s between seasons,” says the hotel’s concierge/social manager.

  • One of the passengers that disembarks with them is Charles Coburn, playing a German scientist named Dr. Waldersee.
  • Into the hotel waltzes Irene…except she’s now a platinum blonde, wearing elaborate furs & talking with a Russian accent. Harry watches her entrance & introduction to the hotel in awed amusement.
  • Irene (Madame Fellara?) does not let on that she knows Harry, and Harry sets out to break her charade.
  • Norma Shearer as Madama Fellara is fantastic. I love every second of the over-dramatization & wildly crafted Russian accent. It’s tremendous.
  • Clark Gable just performed “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” backed up by his 6 sparkly blondes.

This is great!

  • After a day or so at the hotel, the borders are temporarily re-opened, & everyone is given visas for a safe passage to their destinations.

…Except, that is, for Madame Fellara.

  • She doesn’t have a valid passport (shocker) – but instead has had a document obtained for her by her lover/escort Achille (Edward Arnold). However…Achille declines to have her accompany him, when Captain Kirvline (Joseph Schildkraut) gives that as her only option for passage out of the country.

What an asshole!

  • (Here is should be mentioned that Achille is in the munitions business & stands to make huge amounts of money if war breaks out. Irene knows all of his ill-intentioned, pro-war schemes, & thus he has decided that stranding her here, in a mountain town that’s likely to be bombed, due to its closeness to an airfield, is the best thing he can do for himself & his future profits.)
  • This is such a bizarre movie, you guys.
  • So everyone scurries away on the bus to the train station, including Harry, though he only hops on at the last second, because he is saying goodbye to the tragically stranded Irene. Right as he’s going, she admits that yes, it’s her, and she remembers Omaha perfectly.
  • Of course Harry comes back, & Irene shows him the “I don’t know – I guess it hold neckties” souvenir, which she’s apparently carried with her for years. They start drinking champagne…but then, the bombing starts – and the hotel is blown to bits around them.
  • “Harry!” Irene (who is now fading in & out of her Russian accent) says. “Do you know any hymns?”

And thus, Clark Gable sits down at the hotel piano & begins to sing a hymn, amidst the sound of airplanes, bombs, & the building collapsing around them.

  • Soon, there is silence – and Harry & Irene are left standing at a broken window, staring out at the mountains, locked in an embrace.
  • So…uh…then THIS comes on screen:

“You have just seen the original ‘International’ 1939 ending of MGM’s ‘Idiot’s Delight’ which is spiritual and optimistic in tone. We now present the original ‘domestic’ theatrical ending that seems to ignore the fact that the rest of the world is at war.”

  • The alternate ending picks up where the bombing starts, and has Harry talking Irene through the mind-reading act he was doing when they first met. No hymn singing, no deeply solemn or morose tone – instead, the instant the bombing stops, Harry hops on the piano & they start scheming their next show’s numbers, completely smiley & upbeat…no matter the fact that their hotel & probably the nearby town has just been demolished by war planes.

Super weird, to see both.

  • Like I was saying before I knew about the split ending – this is an odd movie.
  • I feel like they had this idea for a movie, but as they were making it, a brutal war was breaking out in the place in which they’d decided to set it – and felt they had to comment on that, somehow.
  • Some of the ‘dangers & tragedies of war’ warnings work, within the movie – but most of them don’t. Mostly those bits feel like completely blatant plot insertions, which, if given a copy of the script, you could clearly flag as not appearing in the original concept.
  • Don’t get me wrong – they made a valiant effort – but I think the movie would have been way more successful if all of the war morals had been cut out. I understand the time & place in which this film was made – but they would have been much better suited to make a separate film incorporating/focusing on the war bits, and left the Harry/Irene Meet Again bit all to itself. Gable & Shearer have enough talent & chemistry to keep that movie way more than afloat.

Tsk, tsk.

Can’t win ’em all.

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