Firstly, I want to thank all the bloggers who signed up for our event. I was so happy to see so many responses to this topic, and I’m looking forward to reading all the contributions over this weekend.
Over the last few months, I’ve become pretty familiar with Ray Milland, and in turn Mitchell Leisen, who teamed up with Milland several times during their Paramount careers. I honestly didn’t give Leisen the thought and recognition he deserves, as I mostly knew him as the guy who directed scripts written by the likes of Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges, and who apparently made both of them peeved enough at one time or another that they started directing their own scripts. But as I’ve seen more of his films from that Paramount era, it’s obvious that even though the qualities I associate with those screenwriters shine through, there is Leisen’s own signature touch as well. He has a light and breezy control of his craft, neither frenetic like Sturges could be, and usually without the touch of cynicism that Wilder had. Perhaps Leisen is overlooked because he stays out of the way of his story and characters, and lets it unfold at its own pace.
Arise, My Love is one of those interventionist message films that came out before the US involvement in WWII. It opens at the conclusion of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, where American ace flyer Tom Martin (Milland) finds himself facing the firing squad for fighting on the losing side. At the eleventh hour, Tom is pardoned by the governor as the result of the pleading of his wife. Tom is baffled as he is a bachelor, but he goes along with the plan. His “wife” turns out to be Associated News reporter Augusta “Gusto” Nash (Claudette Colbert), who has concocted this whole rescue as a way to get an exclusive story. Gusto has been plugging away as a domestic and women’s interest reporter, and longs for a position on the front lines as a foreign correspondent. She and Tom are barely able to flee by plane after their cover is blown, but they make it safely to Paris.
Although Martin has fallen for Gusto almost from the beginning, she turns away his advances and dedicates herself solely to her work. The article of the rescue becomes a hit, and the two spend more time together as Gusto writes more on Tom’s background and adventures. In a lovely romantic scene, Tom tricks Gusto into going on a date with him, and she begins to give in a little to her feelings for him.
In the background, Hitler starts his invasion of Poland, and Gusto is offered a position in Berlin as a foreign correspondent. She tries to leave Tom quickly behind, but he follows her onto the same train, having just enlisted as a volunteer for the Polish air force. The two stop the train and steal away in the Forest of Compiègne, where they both decide to put aside their careers and return to America to marry. Tom secures two boat tickets on the S.S. Athenia, and on their voyage, the two say goodbye to their former selves and vow to start over. However, when the boat is attacked and sinks, Gusto finds herself reporting the breaking news back to her office, and Tom is back in the air flying rescue planes over the wreckage. They both realize that although a part of them yearns for a domestic life and each other, the call of duty is too strong. They part ways on the beaches of Ireland, uncertain of their future and their chances of meeting again.
Months later, Gusto finds herself back in the Forest of Compiègne to cover the signing of the peace treaty between Hitler and the French. Now a hardworking and star reporter, she’s covered all of the major events for the newspaper. Meanwhile Tom, who has been injured and scheduled to travel back to America to start service as a military flight instructor, tracks down Gusto’s location. He convinces her editor to give him press credentials so he can meet her at the treaty signing. The two reunite, and decide this time they will stay together, serving their country back at home.
I found this to be a fascinating film because of it’s historical placement. Both Tom and Gusto choose to forgo what they describe as a happy married life in America, which at that time was “safe,” and plunge headfirst into the war effort. For Gusto as a journalist, she feels compelled to get the word out about what exactly is happening in Europe, especially to those back home in America who didn’t yet have a clear picture of the threat that was looming on the horizon. Tom, after fighting in the Spanish Civil War, volunteers to fight for Poland. Even though his home country was not yet involved, he dives headfirst into fighting the enemy, risking not only his chance at love and happiness, but his life.
Claudette Colbert’s Gusto is foremost a “career woman.” We can see that she is attracted to Tom from the start, and yet it is her drive to become a top reporter that keeps her from becoming too close to him. While there are a few exchanges between Gusto and her editor, the film mostly focuses on her as a single journalist working hard to get the news out to the people back home. With her character on the front lines, it romances the idea of the foreign correspondent.
Written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, the film never feels abruptly dark even though it is serious material. It balances that line between lighter romantic comedy and drama very well in that sense. There are also some double entendres that really made we wonder how they got past the censors. Milland and Colbert, who would make three films together (this being their second) have great chemistry. Both play characters that are very self-confident, and it’s fun to see that battle of wills go on throughout the film.
Unfortunately the movie is not available on home video, and it really is a shame. With all the talent behind and in front of the camera and also as a sort of “historical document” film for the time, I hope it one day is made available for wider viewership.