Entertainment » Movies

Hold Back The Dawn

by Sam Cohen
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jul 16, 2019
Hold Back The Dawn

In the annals of film history, we can frequently look back and find stories that transcend the time in which they were produced. Critics often slap the label of "timely" on films that they think touch upon our current social moment, with its racial tensions and disgust toward immigrants. Rarely, though, do we see U.S.-produced pictures with the same amount of grace that "Hold Back the Dawn" carries. The new restoration by Arrow Films is as much a testament to the power of socially focused dramas as it is a chance for new viewers to discover the undersung director Mitchell Leisen.

Georges Iscovescu (Charles Boyer), a Romanian-born gigolo, tries to enter the United States at a Mexican border town only to discover that the waiting period to become a U.S. citizen is eight years. It's 1941, a time when Hitler is running rampant and plenty of European immigrants are fleeing to the States in a bid to start their lives anew. Georges' old flame Anita (Paulette Goddard) tries to convince him to woo an American woman to marry him and then desert her once the marriage has been vetted by the government. The mark: A young and naïve school teacher named Emmy Brown (Olivia de Havilland). As Georges continues his long con with Emmy, he feels immense guilt and develops genuine feelings for the woman he's set to betray.

So, now for some background on Boyer's career in 1941. He had already played many roles of men with infinite charm and skill for wooing women. That's part of why "Hold Back the Dawn" was so unique at the time, as it pushed Boyer to venture deeper into the image he had created through the characters he played. There's a modicum of irony in casting Boyer to play a gigolo that slowly comes to experience deep empathy and connection to another human being.

Leisen's direction takes great pleasure in watching Georges transform into someone the audience can invest in, as his quest for finding citizenship is undercut by the fact that he's a con man. There's a simple emotional progression in the narrative that's arresting because it doesn't hold any predilections or presumptions about how Georges should or should not be living his life. But I guess we can also attribute that strength to Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, who wrote the script for "Hold Back the Dawn."

Critic Farran Smith Nehme writes breathlessly about the film in her essay "Frontiers of the Heart: Revisiting "Hold Back the Dawn," which is included in a booklet in this new Blu-ray release. Not only does she make an incredibly insightful case for the film, but she also gives the same light to Leisen, a director that, to her, is able to gracefully portray the romantic awakening of Georges and the sexual awakening of Emmy. The essay stands as proof of Leisen's mastery and testifies as to why "Hold Back the Dawn" should never be forgotten. If you're a fan of classic romances, especially those with a touch of political commentary, I can't recommend this new release by Arrow highly enough. Other special features include:

• New audio commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin
• "Love Knows No Borders," a newly filmed video appreciation by film critic Geoff Andrew
• The Guardian Lecture: Olivia de Havilland, A career-spanning onstage audio interview with Olivia de Havilland recorded at the National Film Theatre in 1971

"Hold Back the Dawn"
Arrow Films Blu-ray


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