Midnight, a 1939 Paramount production, has to be one of more underrated screwball comedies of the 30s, directed by Mitchell Leisen who is arguably one of the more underrated Hollywood directors of that era.
Eve Peabody (Claudette Colbert) is an American chorus girl from a small town somewhere in the MIdwest who arrives in Paris without a cent (or rather without a sou) to her name. She needs to find a job. To find a job she needs a taxi to take her to the various clubs, but to afford a taxi she first needs a job. She explains her dilemma to taxi driver Tibor Czerny (Don Ameche) and offers him a deal. If he’ll drive her around for nothing then if she does land a job she’ll pay him double the fare. Surprisingly enough he agrees.
Several hours later she still hasn’t won a job but she has won something else - the heart of Tibor Czerny (who it turns out is a hopeless romantic at heart).
But Eve is not interested in poor taxi drivers. She is after richer fish.
She cons her way into a high-class musical evening. She is invited into a bridge game where she manages to lose several thousand francs she doesn’t have. Eve now realises she’s in very big trouble indeed, until she glances into her purse and finds it stuffed with thousand-franc notes.
Her mysterious benefactor is the fabulously wealthy Georges Flammarion (John Barrymore). He spotted her deception straight away but he has plans for Eve. No, not those sorts of plans. You see Georges has a problem. His wife Helene (Mary Astor) is in love with the dashing (although not very bright) Jacques Picot. Georges wants his wife back and he figures the best way to do this is to get Jacques interested in someone else. That shouldn’t be too difficult. Jacques is interested in all rich beautiful women and Eve is certainly beautiful enough.
But first Georges has to transform Eve into a woman of the right sort - a high-class society woman (Jacques definitely likes his women rich). So Eve becomes the mysterious Hungarian Baroness Czerny. She becomes something of an overnight sensation in Parisian society.
Of course the kinds of complications that you expect in a screwball comedy soon ensue.
This movie benefits from a very strong cast. Claudette Colbert is delightful as always. Don Ameche is very good although at times he’s in danger of being overshadowed by Barrymore. Barrymore is in fine form and actually restrains himself from being too hammy. Mary Astor provides excellent support.
It’s hard to fault Mitchell Leisen’s direction. Despite the screenplay being written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder there’s very little of the trademark Wilder cynicism and misanthropy in this movie. Which is definitely a good thing.
This is a lightweight but thoroughly charming movie with the right mix of laughs and romance. Paramount was a studio with a knack for producing good screwball comedies (and for choosing the right people to make them) so it’s hardly surprising that this effort is completely successful.