Still haven’t sighed enough over DiCaprio and Winslet? With Titanic finally sinking at the box office and its video launch who knows how many months away — industry speculation puts it late this fall — Titaniacs cruising the video stores could do no better than to rent History Is Made at Night. A rapturous 1937 Warner Bros. film by Frank Borzage, the Oscar-winning director of the most electric movie melodramas ever, History‘s got it all — true love across class lines, disaster at sea, even an Italian sidekick for comic relief.
It begins with Irene (Jean Arthur), a young American socialite desperate to escape a stifling life as the spouse of cold, insanely jealous tycoon Bruce Vail (ex-Dr. Frankenstein Colin Clive). She meets Paul (Charles Boyer as the suavest headwaiter ever), a dashing young man possessed of easy grace and a free spirit. In their first encounter, hero saves heroine from a compromising situation and whisks her away to his milieu, where she can relax enough to dance barefoot — and fall in love. Vail learns of Irene’s new attachment and plots murderous revenge. There are accusations of jewel theft, Paul is framed for crimes he didn’t commit, and, as a grand finale, the lovers book passage on a huge ocean liner making (what else) its maiden voyage across the Atlantic. Need we mention that the captain, spurred to attempt a record crossing by Vail, who also happens to be the ship’s owner, steers the boat into an iceberg? You know that Irene will forsake her lifeboat at the last second to remain with Paul. But will the ship actually sink?
We won’t tell. (And the vacationing James Cameron was unavailable at press time to tell us if he was influenced by the film.) Suffice it to say that — upending Cameron’s put-a-romance-in-to-personalize-the-disaster strategy — History inserts the Titanic-like events to give Paul and Irene an amply insurmountable obstacle for their love to scale. And in the end, as Jack Dawson would say, they make it count.