“You needn't be afraid, Miss Brown. Not a bit. You see, we are like ... two trains, halted for a moment at the same station. But we're going in different directions. We can't change our course, any more than we can hold back the dawn.”
I am always a sucker for films with my favorite actors or actresses. I will watch any film by anyone I like. Hold Back the Dawn had a big bonus because it included two actresses I greatly admire Olivia de Havilland and Paulette Goddard. As the film progressed I found it to be a great story of wanting a better life and the want to live life.
The film starts off with Georges Iscovescu (Charles Boyer) looking to get into Paramount Studios (can you guess which studio released the film?) to talk to a director. He bypasses some officials and finds the director. Georges knows the director from the Riviera so he asks the director if he could tell him his story so that it could be used for a movie. From here the film is told through flashbacks.
Georges traveled to Mexico so he could get a visa into the United States. The US Immigrations Office has a quota of how many people from certain countries can enter the US. Georges is Romanian and is told he will have to wait four or five years to enter the country. This is a big blow to him but there is nothing he can do.
At a bar one night his friend Anita (Paulette Goddard) finds him. She and Georges used to run around Europe scamming people out of money. They both still have feelings for each other as each seems to turn up the heat in their conversation. Anita had once been living in Mexico and at the same hotel as Georges until she met an American, married him, and then divorced him, and now she is an American citizen. She plants the idea of marrying an American woman into his head and now Georges is on the prowl. The time could not be more perfect with Americans coming to celebrate the Fourth of July.
In the morning as he is walking along the sidewalk a kid from a car throws a firecracker out the window and startles him. The kid is in a car full of boys being driven by a young woman who is their teacher. She tells the boy to apologize but then Georges gets rude because he is upset with everyone coming through the border so easily when he can’t. She then tries to drive off in a huff but hits the car in front of her instead. The whole day Georges is putting the moves and being charming to a women he found alone at a bull fight. By the end of the day he finds out she has a husband who was in the car all day.
On his way back to the hotel he runs into the woman who was driving the car. She has is in a garage trying to get the car fixed with the boys running around like animals. He goes over to see how she is doing and she is all frazzled. He finds out her name is Emmy Brown (de Havilland) and she is a teacher from Azusa, California and all she wanted to do was show her class a fiesta and teach them about the Mexican culture. The car will not be ready until the morning and Emmy and the students will have to sleep at the hotel.
After he gets Emmy settled downstairs Georges goes up to his room and waiting for him is Anita. She has gotten the room next to his. She tells him that once he can get in America they can be together again and go to New York to scam people and that she will give him anything. He takes her ring planning to ask Emmy to marry him. In the early morning hours he pretty much plays a trick on the naïve young school teacher by asking her to marry him saying that he is lonely and that she has brought him happiness. She agrees because she wants to live her life she does not want to be lonely anymore.
The teacher and the gigolo marry. Georges has to wait four weeks until his visa clears to enter the US. Emmy brings her students back and in the mean time they write letters to each other. Georges and Anita spend time together planning what they will do once they are together again. He tells his partner that he will only take a half hour to break things off with Emmy by telling her she is nice and that the marriage will not work out. As they walk out of a café he sees across the street at the hotel that Emmy’s car is in the front.
Emmy is in his room with a whole bunch of things. She is so excited to be married and really loves Georges. The head immigration officer has been cracking down on foreigners marrying Americans just to get into the States so Georges suggests to Emmy that they go away anywhere for a few days and have a real honeymoon.
On the impromptu trip Georges begins to really fall in love with Emmy. He sees that she is from a small town where nothing really happens and how this quick marriage has really added something to her life. She is so excited to be married and truly in love with him and he feels bad that he is just marrying her to use her. When they get back to the hotel after their trip he tells Anita their plan is off he wants to stay with his wife. Angry, Anita tells Emmy the whole truth.
Emmy is called down to be questioned about Georges by the immigrations officer. She tells the officer that it was she who asked Georges to marry her and that they are very happy together. The officer is miffed over the whole thing but he lets it go. Emmy leaves Georges angry but she still loves him.
On the way home something happens to Emmy and when Georges hears about it he risks his visa by driving to her.
This is a love story made in 1941 of course it is going to end happy.
The cast was excellent all the way down to the featured players. Olivia de Havilland was all kinds of fantastic and adorable. She was nominated for her first Academy Award for Hold Back the Dawn but was very unfortunately beaten out by her sister Joan Fontaine for her performance in Suspicion. Now I adore Fontaine almost as much as de Havilland (in fact I knew who Joan was before Olivia and would not have heard of Olivia without knowing her sister) but Suspicion was terrible she should not have even been considered for any sort of award let alone an Oscar. I think Fontaine won just because she was snubbed the year before for her performance in Rebecca that she should have won and the Academy felt bad. If I had been de Havilland I would have been really pissed off I lost out to one of the worst dramatic film performances ever. Paulette Goddard was just awesome the woman is so underrated as an actress she was so versatile. Anita was such a bitch and Goddard played it wonderfully. Up to this point I have only seen Goddard in comedies not something dramatic like this and she just nailed it. Charles Boyer was very good. Underneath you can see that his character really loved Emmy and truly felt bad for what he was doing to her. Boyer was very good at playing emotions and showing them.
The story was well written by Billy Wilder and Charlie Brackett. It reminded me a bit of Casablanca where people were desperate to immigrate to America for a better life. One lady was so desperate for her baby to be born in America that she lied to some guards at the gate saying that she had an appointment with the immigration official and she had her baby in his office on US soil so that it would be an American citizen (yes I know Casablanca was made two years after Hold Back the Dawn). You are left unable to feel bad for Georges wanting to get into the US and taking advantage of Emmy the way he did. Sure he was going to do not so great things once he hooked up with Anita but he had that sense of desperation but he also did redeem himself but really falling in love with Emmy.
Hold Back the Dawn is a good film. The performances are all very well done by the entire cast and the story was well written. At some points I found it a bit tedious to sit through I felt some parts dragged. My favorite scene was between Paulette Goddard and Olivia de Havilland I was so hoping they would have a scene together just because I like them both so much. Olivia de Havilland alone is worth sitting through the film, there is a reason she is one of the ultimate classic actresses and this is one of her many fantastic films which proves it.
Catch Hold Back the Dawn on Youtube in full or if TCM airs it. The film is currently unavailable on DVD.