I Met Him in Paris (1937)

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  • directed by Wesley Ruggles
  • starring Claudette Colbert, Melvyn Douglas, Robert Young, Lee Bowman, Mona Barrie
  • Kay Denham is off for a fling in Paris, where she meets two new suitors, Gene and George.

“You know sometimes I wish I was crazy, too.”

There’s a decent movie trapped somewhere inside of I Met Him in Paris. Along the way, it tries its hand at several different styles of comedy—slapstick, screwball, romantic—but ends up earning few if any of the laughs due to a deeply flawed script.

Exhibit A: Claudette Colbert’s Kay Denham leads a conservative and unsophisticated lifestyle in America. She is not a modern woman. One of the men she meets when arriving in Paris, George Potter (Melvyn Douglas), is a placid, perpetually passed-over novelist who keeps an air of superiority to him even when in the throes of crushing defeat. We know these character traits not through backstory or actions that inform. Instead each of the adjectives above is directly spoken to the characters by each other or by the characters about themselves. On the nose dialogue is in charge of uncovering depth of character. It is a prime example of how a script can torpedo the delight in watching agreeable stars in beautiful scenery take part in unique-to-film activities, such as bobsledding, all while trying to arrive at the love of one’s life. The pieces are there. I was primed to love a romantic comedy with Claudette Colbert and Melvyn Douglas, two favorites. But to my horror, unfortunately it wasn’t even a script that underserved its players, it was one that tried its best to suck the life force right out of them

We meet Kay aboard a Europe-bound ocean liner as she attempts to shake suitor number one, the puppy-like Berk. She is literally and figuratively struggling to push away her old boring life and satisfy a craving for adventure. Berk, god bless him I really did enjoy Lee Bowman’s pathetic portrayal most of all, will resurface later.

Shortly after arriving in Paris she meets numbers two and three, George Potter and Gene Anders. The two men are…friends, I think? They say they are but were acting more like two people who stay near each other and comment on what the other person is doing wrong in life. Anyway, life is a competition for them and it’s all very unclear. After a few intentional misdirections, Anders gets out to quick lead in the Kay-courting game, which leads to probably the biggest flaw of the movie, turning George Potter into an ineffectual curmudgeon.

They all head to Switzerland by train and around this point there might as well have been a flashing, neon arrow over Potter’s head reading “this is the hero, root for him.” But at that same point he was completely neutered beyond any possible romantic possibilities; just a grouch that realizes he’s lost the game and can do nothing but be a wet blanket at all times. Just look at this abomination of a come-on he delivers to Kay at the end of his rope: “I love you. Don’t let it bother you, ‘cause I’ve loved other women and nothing’s ever happened. And don’t feel sorry for me because I also love beautiful pictures and good books, and they don’t love me.” Get out your hand fans, ladies, this is your leading man. Further draining the romance on the screen is Gene Anders, a married playboy who, if you can parse through the thick decorum of 1930’s Hollywood, at the end of the day only wanted a one night stand with Kay. For most of the movie, though, he is presented, and presents himself against his true desires, as a viable candidate for marriage.

After all the death-defying attempts at skiing, bobsledding, and ice skating, the constant one-upmanship of Gene and George, and ultimately the arrival of Gene’s wife, Kay has seen enough and retreats back to the simple life. All three extremely unappealing men, including a dumbstruck Berk fresh from travel, flock to her side to plead their extremely unappealing cases. George has the best case and so that’s your big Hollywood finish.

My complaints have been filed accordingly, but there were a few enjoyable things happening. A romantic comedy, however imperfect, decorated by risky winter sports was a novelty that worked for me. And shooting as much as possible in actual open-air mountain locations went a long way. But spending a bit more time enhancing the characters and propping up the love story than figuring out the logistics of slapstick stunts in the snow would have served I Met Him in Paris immeasurably.