From the propaganda mill of Tinseltown, Mitchell Leisen’s HOLD BACK THE DAWN unashamedly posits USA as the ultimate safe haven for the war-ridden continental Caucasians, impeded by the quota number foisted upon each country, those wannabe-immigrants languish in the Esperanza Hotel at the Mexican border, waiting for their visa being granted, which could take years, torn by the so-near-yet-so-far anguish but there is nothing else they can do but waiting. Yet that is not the case for Georges Iscovescu (Boyer), a gigolo with Romanian extraction, all he needs is to marry a wide-eyed American girl from whom he can subsequently divorce once he lands his feet on the Land of Freedom.
Said eligible girls are at a premium on this side of the border, once Georges sets his eyes on the demure schoolteacher Emmy Brown (de Havilland), he knows he has found the perfect prey, and he has only one night to charm her into wedlock, he manages to do that through plausible blandishments, his requisite survival skills which he has been practicing from one skirt to another in another continent, and a corn-fed simpleton like Emmy has no immunity to his effusive, exotic affection, she is swooned with glee and is reborn as a newly-wed totally overwhelmed by the whirlpool of romance, her naivety is achingly touching watched by spectators in the know, with the tingling anticipation of the earth-shattering moment that will dash her reveries and crash her to the core, meanwhile hoping Georges will have a change in his cold heart, after all, Emmy represents the paradigm of an American wife, a merchandise catering for all men whose path have been lead astray, here is your chance to turn on a new leaf of your sorry life!
Ms. de Havilland is as per usual, a virtuous ingenué has no single morsel of vice in her chromosomes, and arrestingly holds court when she gracefully nails the clincher by swallowing the hard truth but also admitting her own inanity in this “it takes two to tango” flimflam, a second Oscar nomination is a sublime payoff. Mr. Boyer, whose Janus-faced fickleness, which would be canalized into great terror in George Cukor’s GASLIGHT (1944), only intrigues us for half of the movie’s length as it is superseded by a hangdog impression after his conscience gradually catches up with him. Also top billed, Paulette Goddard’s Anita Dixon, Georges’ former dancing partner, fares less eloquent as the brazen gold-digger who has to take on the ignoble job of dishing the dirt out of petty jealousy, then, there is always Walter Abel’s dogged, brisk Inspector Hammock, who dutifully fishes for unholy unions on the scorching turf, and a snippet about the pregnant Ms. Kurz (DeCamp) laboriously tries and succeeds in going into labor on the USA territory, so that the newborn infant can be born as a natural American citizen comes as a bittersweet divertissement and underlines the quagmire of a larger picture.
While the movie does lose some zest and credibility in the latter stage when the narrative hastens toward a contrived happy ending (yes, dictating your story to a Hollywood filmmaker to get some quick cash is not just lazy but desperate writing, Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder are the scribes no less!), HOLD BACK THE DAWN is at any rate, a highly watchable melodrama with a romantic spin angling for those of soft-centered persuasion.
referential entries: George Cukor’s GASLIGHT (1944, 7.2/10); John Huston’s IN THIS OUR LIFE (1942, 6.8/10).