“Are you French?
‘Yes, but the accent won’t show on the photo’”
For reasons I am not entirely sure why, I don’t really watch black and white films at all, I have to be made to watch them even though I know that many of them are excellent. So it was with a little trepidation that I started the 1938 Danielle Darrieux film The Rage of Paris, directed by Henry Koster, and naturally, within minutes I was completely hooked by this utterly delightful screwball comedy and Darrieux’s brilliant performance as the duplicitous Nicole de Cortillon.
Stuck in New York with no job and owing several weeks rent, Nicole decides that the only solution is to find herself a rich husband. Together with her wisecracking friend Gloria and a somewhat dipsy maître’d at a posh hotel, they scheme to ensnare a handsome millionaire Bill Duncan who is staying in the hotel. Her natural charm means that she soon has him wrapped around her little finger with an engagement ring on her third but Bill’s friend Jim threatens the whole plan as it turns out he’s met Nicole before…
Darrieux really is excellent here, witty and graceful, the camera adores her and she revels in its gaze, playing with her Continental ‘otherness’ beautifully to get the laughs yet always remaining cute with it, her facial expressions in the more physical scenes are great to behold. Louis Hayward’s Bill and Douglas Fairbanks Jnr as Jim are as devilishly handsome as you could want your old-school Hollywood chaps to be, Mischa Auer is hilarious as the waiter and Helen Broderick’s Gloria is another delight in a whip-sharp film.
And though it has been said many times before, given the strength of the female characters here, written by Bruce Manning and Felix Jackson, it is remarkable to think how little Hollywood has advanced, retreated even, in its treatment of women in comedy. With evidence such as this right in front of them, it is scandalous to think of the limited opportunities they have been afforded.