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Film / Midnight (1939)

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"Every Cinderella has her midnight."

Midnight (1939) is a Screwball Comedy following the adventures of Eve Peabody (Claudette Colbert), an American showgirl penniless in Paris. It’s like the story of Cinderella, except a modern take with a wisecracking, gold digging girl who is more interesting than poor old Cinders.

The film begins with Eve meeting cab driver Tibor Cznery (Don Ameche); they both feel a spark, but Eve runs away, afraid of what this connection might bring. She sneaks herself into high society by way of a fancy musical soiree, meeting Georges Flammarion (John Barrymore) who easily spots her as an imposter. This gives him the opportunity to use Eve for a silly plot: get rid of Jacques Picot (Frances Lederer), the man his wife, Helene (Mary Astor), is falling in love with. Acting like a wonderful fairy godmother, he gives Eve lavish amenities and money as long as she does her job. Meanwhile, Tibor is searching all of Paris for his potential girlfriend, using all the cab drivers in Paris as lookouts.

Midnight boasts a screenplay by the writing team of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, and was directed by Mitchell Leisen.

In 2013, this film was chosen for preservation in the National Film Registry.

This film shows the following tropes:

  • Bait-and-Switch Accusation: Eve thinks she is found out as the impostor at the music party when Marcel approaches her sternly. But before she can explain herself, it becomes clear he sought her out in hope she would play bridge with his friends.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between Tibor and Eve. They are always bickering and bickering…
  • A Bloody Mess: An accidental version. Eve thinks Tibor is bleeding from his head wound inflicted by the Frying Pan of Doom but as somebody points out, the blood was just gravy from the kidneys.
  • Bluff the Impostor: When Eve poses an an Hungarian royal blood, Georges is onto her and asks if the Budapest subway has been finished yet. She replies that the streets are still torn up. However, as George later reveals, the metro was already finished 50 years ago.
  • Break-Up/Make-Up Scenario: In a hilarious turn of events, the unmarried Eve and Tibor have a divorce, and during the legal proceedings, this happens.
  • Brick Joke: Eve manages to get into a high society party, invitation only, with an old pawn card. The hostess, Stephanie, finds out there is an “Eve Peabody” that needs to be kicked out and announces it to her guests. Eve, of course, doesn’t give in. Then comes this exchange:
    Georges: [Guests are filing out of Stephanie's musical soiree] Did you ever find that "Eve Peabody"?
    Stephanie: Finally. I had her thrown out. She was a horrible old woman. Roger found her in the powder room. Imagine! You know, she claimed to be the Archduchess of Mendola.
    • Later, we hear from Stephanie again.
    Stephanie: [In a hat shop] Oh, dear! If ever a woman needed a new hat, it is I. I'm being SUED - for fifty thousand francs.
    Helene: [Shocked] No!
    Simone: By whom?
    Stephanie: By the Archduchess of Mendola. You know that creature I had thrown out last night? And I thought it was that "Eve Peabody"? Ha! It really was the Archduchess of Mendola.
  • Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: Jacques Picot smokes a pipe on several occasions.
  • Divorce Is Temporary: Here’s where it gets screwbally: Eve has led everyone to believe that she is Baroness Cznery. Since she’s “married” to “Baron” Tibor, she needs a divorce to marry Picot. The only problem is that Tibor and Eve aren’t even married. Somehow, they proceed with the divorce, fooling everyone, but Tibor manages to win Eve back. They then decide to get married, much to the bafflement of the judge that refused their divorce. Screwball to the max, eh?
  • Door-Closes Ending: The film ends with the courthouse's doors closing with the added bonus of having "the end" written on them.
  • Double Take / Delayed Reaction: The judge does a big one when he hears that the "married" couple who were refused a divorce are going to get married.
  • Empathic Environment: Discussed by Simone at the music gathering early on: "It always rains when Stephanie gives one of her dull parties. Even nature weeps."
  • Flowers of Romance: The morning after meeting Eve, Picot sends her a bouquet of hosannas. Georges is there when she receives them and makes this hilarious observation:
    Georges: [reading the accompanying card] "Hosannas to the high gods for bringing us together." Mmm... I rather resent that. To my wife he only said, "So glad to have met."
  • Frying Pan of Doom: Tibor gets knocked out by a frying pan swung by Marcel.
  • Gambit Pileup: Three parties scheme against another which leads to some screwbally moments. A Battle of Wits unfolds especially between Eve/Georges and Tibor.
  • Gold Digger: Eve is a definite gold-digger.
    Eve: I landed a lord, almost.
    Tibor: Almost?
    Eve: Well, the family came between us. His mother came to my hotel and offered me a bribe.
    Tibor: You threw her out, I hope!
    Eve: How could I, with my hands full of money?
    • She even tells Tibor why she won’t go any further with him:
      Eve: Listen. Back in New York, whenever I managed to crash a party full of luscious big-hearted millionaires, there was always sure to be some snub-faced kid in the orchestra playing traps. And so at four in the morning, when the wise girls were skipping off to Connecticut to marry those millionaires, I'd be with him in some nightspot learning tricks on the kettledrum. And he always had a nose like yours.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Eve is mentioned to be "such a gay wife".
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: Only just averted. At midnight, when Helene is about to reveal Eve as an impostor, the arrival of Tibor Czerny is announced which renders Helene's theory untenable, forcing her into silence.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Eve's assumed surname Czerny was a line-of-subconscious-name as Tibor points out.
  • Mask of Sanity: Inverted. While at the Flammarion estate—under the guise of a married couple—, Tibor tries to make Eve leave, saying their daughter, Francie, (there's no "Francie") has measles. Quick thinking Eve, however, manages to fool everyone by pretending to talk to her daughter over the phone. She contrives the situation so well that everyone believes Francie only has a heat rash. Unfortunately, this rousing lie falls apart when the servants say that the phones haven’t been working since the night before. In order to hide the lie, Eve tells everyone that she has to pretend she has a little girl, because Tibor, her fake Hungarian Baron/husband, may look normal, but is actually off his rocker. Eve explains:
    Eve: When I married, I didn't realize that in the Czerny family there was a streak of... shall we say, eccentricity? And yet, I had warning. Why else should his grandfather have sent me, as an engagement present, one roller skate - covered with Thousand Island dressing?
    Jacques Picot: [Shocked] What?
    Georges: [who knows that this is all a lie] Of course, of course I'd forgotten! The Czerny's are all like that. You know, I met an old aunt - the Countess Antonia. I thought she was an Indian. It turned out, that she used paprika instead of face powder.
  • Meet Cute: Where does lonely Eve in a rainy Paris do without any money? Hail a cab with a certain someone that is willing to take her from place to place, trying to help her find a job. All for free!
  • Mistaken from Behind: Tibor spots a girl in the streets wearing a shiny dress like Eve's. He pulls over and runs after her shouting Eve's name, but when he pulls her around, the girl turns out to be someone else.
  • Mistaken Identity: Eve purposely dons the identity of a Hungarian Baroness. Hilarity Ensues, of course.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Eve sports this when she first wakes up in the hotel.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Most of the cast, really. Eve is supposed to be from Indiana, but most of the French aristocrats sound just as American. The Austrian Lederer can pass as Belgian to American ears, but Ameche by no means sounds Hungarian.
  • Phoney Call: Type A. Eve pretends to talk to her non-existent child.
  • Rags to Riches: Well, Eve isn’t exactly in rags while in her gorgeous, draping evening gown, but she's without a cent in the world, and then Godmother Georges lets her use his money for clothes and fancy cars. She even becomes a Baroness.
  • Removing the Rival: How does Tibor get rid of a bunch of cab drivers from dancing with Eve? Pay a man to call a taxi, making all the drivers rush out the restaurant for some dough.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Tibor versus Jacques. Kind of deconstructed half-way through when Eve turns Tibor down for his poorness. But all is forgotten at the end.
  • Romantic False Lead: Picot. Every screwball comedy needs one. This time he’s not a boring oaf, just a cad.
  • Snowball Lie: Eve says she's a Baroness to cover the fact that she is an impostor at a swanky party, but the snowball gets huge quickly as soon as Georges finds her out: not only did Eve have to keep up the ruse, but Tibor shows up, pretending to be her husband. He tries to get Eve to leave by pretending they have a sick daughter, and then having to get a divorce for a marriage that doesn't exist. Oh, and Eve makes everyone believe Tibor is utterly insane.
  • Time Title: Mainly as a reference to how When the Clock Strikes Twelve plays a part in Cinderella, which this movie references, and has a reveal happen around then.
  • Title Drop: From our protagonist:
    Eve: Every Cinderella has her midnight.
  • Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: This happens a lot between Eve and Tibor.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: True to the film's Cinderella-ish story; at the Flammarion estate, Helene has found out Eve's true identity—and is about to reveal it— when Tibor shows up masquerading as Baron Tibor Czerny, right around the fabled time.
  • Zany Scheme: In order to find Eve, Tibor collects a pool of money from the taxi drivers as an incentive for them to find her. Whoever does, wins the pool.

Alternative Title(s): Midnight