Idiot’s Delight (1939)


Movies from this era often fade into incomprehensibility when we take them away from the context in which they were made. These were after all intended as a disposable product, to live for only a few weeks.

In this particular case, the movie follows a play that had some persistence before and afterward, so most elements are more polished than the usual movie fare of the period. That period is remembered firsthand by almost no one today: Hitler had started a war, promising a quick defeat of all Europe based on Germany’s obsession with full war production. Americans watched, supplied and financed allies and feared engagement.

But this was before that engagement when the backdrop could serve as a sort of generic turmoil for the real story. Its a somewhat pasted up series of events that has two performers (one already war-weary) have a brief affair (we mean enchanted sex here), separate and then encounter each other again.

The rejoining is strange. Our hero is now travelling with six dumb blonds, depicted as a highly desirable situation. They are conventional performers and in the course of the movie give us a song and dance routine.

Irene on the other hand, has taken the role of deposed Russian royalty serving as a classy prostitute to the head of German war production. We keep waiting to discover that she is spy, but no luck.. she’s just a whore.

Never mind that, in those days we were supposed to identify with and idealise whores if they were of the proper attitude. And the attitude here is threat of performer. There’s a long tradition of performers as prostitutes and in fact that was pretty much the case only a few decades earlier.

The wife of the head of the studio has the plum role here, and she completely blows it. All the air goes out of the underpinning of the play. Because of that and the lost context, I cannot recommend this.

Posted in 2005

Ted’s Evaluation — 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.


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