October 21, 2019  (Web Review)

Hold Back the Dawn

Arrow, 116 min., not rated, Blu-ray: $39.95

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

Charles Boyer stars as Georges Iscovescu, a Romanian dancer and gigolo who flees Europe ( the film never specifically mentions the war, but the shadow of Hitler hangs over the story) and attempts to enter to the United States via Mexico by marrying an American woman in this 1941 romantic melodrama. Olivia de Havilland is a schoolteacher who Georges targets, playing the tortured romantic with a tragic past—until she impulsively marries him—and Paulette Goddard costars as Georges’ former dance partner and fellow grifter who plans to pick up where they left off once he’s granted citizenship. Boyer plays the role as a scheming cad wracked by his conscience when his new wife returns unexpectedly for a honeymoon while he waits for his papers, and their getaway becomes a romantic fairy tale. The screenplay is by the legendary writing team of Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder (Wilder himself lived in a Mexican border town while awaiting entrance to the U.S. after he fled Hitler’s Germany). The tale plays out in a Mexican tourist hotel where a community of European exiles awaits legal emigration. Director Mitchell Leisen balances cynicism and optimism in this film this is both adult drama and romantic fantasy. A minor but satisfying Hollywood melodrama with strong performances and star power, Hold Back the Dawn bows on Blu-ray with extras including audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin, a video appreciation by film critic Geoff Andrew, an archival 1971 interview with de Havilland, and a 1941 radio adaptation with Boyer and Goddard reprising their roles. A strong optional purchase. (S. Axmaker)