'Midnight,' 1939

The French-born, American-bred Claudette Colbert never looked more fetching than as Eve Peabody, the chorine from Kokomo in the Mitchell Leisen-directed "Midnight," from Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett's lighthearted yet ardent script. She arrives in Paris with hopes of becoming a cafe singer. She falls in love with an emigre Hungarian cabdriver, Tibor Czerny ( Don Ameche), and later falls in like with a high-society circle that accepts her imitation of a Hungarian baroness. From afar, Colbert blends into the Art Deco. Her cheekbones are so high they make her face look upside-down-triangular; close-up, her big warm eyes take over. You know why every man in the movie melts for her, thanks partly to Wilder and Brackett's screenplay. They establish her as an American Cinderella -- that is, a self-made Cinderella to whom money is certainly nice but true love needs no bank account. The midnight when the coach-and-four is supposed to turn into a pumpkin never comes. The only pumpkin in this Cinderella story is Czerny's cab, and if Ameche as Czerny isn't exactly princely, he is unexpectedly charming. "Mr. Hulot's Holiday," 1953 Jacques Tati's knack for wringing poetic comedy from the commonplace gives "Mr. Hulot's Holiday" a paradoxical charm unlike that of any other vacation movie. This chain of slapstick routines centers on the everyday irritations that crop up at a seaside resort. Yet the film leaves an audience feeling wistful and refreshed. Tati's rhythms are surprising -- they mix langour and abruptness. The mood is set by the unusually lengthy and droll opening crawl, which warns viewers against looking for a plot, since "a holiday is meant purely for fun." From the moment Mr. Hulot (Tati) starts motoring to the beach, his misadventures have a high exasperation quotient: his car is a quaintly sporty rattletrap, and as it rumbles over a cobbled road we experience what rattletrap really means. But Tati's touch is so airy that it tickles, even when it sensitizes us to annoyances we didn't recognize before, or that everyone learns to live with. He knows when to heighten his characters' frustrations and when to lay off. Hulot himself is a slippery figure, helpful in clumsy ways, and overly determined to be merry and gallant. Even when he partially succeeds at mastering his playtime, as when he displays a vicious tennis serve, his determination tends to take the fun out of things -- for him, and for his fellow vacationers, but emphatically not for the audience.
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