Idiot's Delight

Overview

Robert E. Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Idiot's Delight starred Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne on Broadway. Set in a lavish alpine hotel bordering an Italian air base, the story throws together several disparate people, each in his or her own way affected by the World War that threatens to erupt at a moment's notice. The only person who doesn't seem to have a political or economic stake in world affairs is Harry Van, a two-bit American entertainer who is stranded in the hotel with his travelling all-girl ...
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Overview

Robert E. Sherwood's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Idiot's Delight starred Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne on Broadway. Set in a lavish alpine hotel bordering an Italian air base, the story throws together several disparate people, each in his or her own way affected by the World War that threatens to erupt at a moment's notice. The only person who doesn't seem to have a political or economic stake in world affairs is Harry Van, a two-bit American entertainer who is stranded in the hotel with his travelling all-girl troupe, "Les Blondes." Harry is convinced that the alluring Irene, the foreign-accented "travelling companion" of munitions tycoon Achille Weber, is actually an American girl with whom he'd had a one-night stand years earlier, but Irene laughs off his insinuations. Eventually, Irene turns to Harry for comfort when Weber proves too disgustingly warmongering for her tastes. When war breaks out and the hotel is targeted for bombing, Harry makes sure that everyone gets to safety; he himself stays behind with Irene, with whom he has fallen in love. The two sing a hymn as the hotel is blown to oblivion. When Idiot's Delight was filmed in 1939, Norma Shearer did her best Lynn Fontanne imitation as Irene, while Clark Gable remained Clark Gable in his interpretation of Harry Van his song-and-dance rendition of "Puttin' on the Ritz" is a classic of sneering insouciance. The film underwent an extensive "MGM-izing": while the pre-European affair between Harry and Irene is never dramatized in the play, the film shows Harry and Irene commiserating in a long prologue set in a seedy vaudeville house--and, in keeping with censorship restrictions, it is made abundantly clear that, while Harry befriends Irene, he does not sleep with her. The munitions manufacturer, here played by Edward Arnold, is depicted as an aberration, and not representative of "honest" business moguls many of whom were close personal chums of MGM head Louis B. Mayer. And, while the ending of the play does not tell us whether or not Harry and Irene survive the bombing, the film permits the lovers a sun-streamed happy ending.
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Craig Butler
The sight of a platinum blonde Norma Shearer takes some getting used to -- but then so does most of Shearer in Idiot's Delight. For whatever reason, Shearer never really "gets" the character. She provides the extravagance that the character calls for, but without the fun or satire, and she often seems to be acting in a vacuum; there may be other characters onscreen with her, but she rarely really connects with them. As a result, there's very little chemistry between her and Clark Gable, a serious problem. Gable, luckily, doesn't need her. His performance is a small gem, played with a light touch when appropriate and at full guns when needed. And the chance to see the King performing "Puttin' On the Ritz" is fascinating. He doesn't really do it well, but he does it like Gable, and that's more than enough. Robert Sherwood's play has been significantly altered, but the alternations are not all improvements, especially in terms of the characters played by Burgess Meredith and Edward Arnold. Things have become a little too pat, and the ending rankles, but there's still enough in Idiot to make it worth the occasional viewing.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 3/23/2009
  • UPC: 883316125342
  • Original Release: 1939
  • Rating:

  • Source: Warner Archives
  • Presentation: B&W / Pan & Scan
  • Time: 1:46:00
  • Format: DVD
  • Sales rank: 37,928

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Norma Shearer Irene Fellara
Clark Gable Harry Van
Edward Arnold Achille Weber
Charles Coburn Dr. Waldersee
Joseph Schildkraut Capt. Kirvline
Burgess Meredith Quillery
Laura Hope Crews Mme. Zuleika
Peter Willes Mr. Cherry
William Edmunds Dumptey
Fritz Feld Pittatek
Virginia Grey Shirley Laughlin
Lorraine Krueger Bebe
Paula Stone Beulah Tremeyne
Virginia Dale Francine, Les Blondes
Joan Marsh Elaine Messiger
Bernadene Hayes Edna Creesh
Gertrude Bennett Woman with Powders
Clem Bevans Jimmy Barzek
Hobart Cavanaugh Frueheim, the Theater Manager
Jimmy Conlin Stagehand
Frank Faylen Ed
Richard "Skeets" Gallagher Donald Navadel
Bud Geary Ambulance Driver
Eddie Gribbon Cop
William Irving Sandro
Charles Judels Greek Restaurant Owner
Evelyn Knapp Nurse
Mitchell Lewis Indian
Francis McDonald Flight Captain
Claire McDowell Mother
Buddy Messinger Usher
Robert Middlemass Hospital Commandant
Adolph Milar Fellara
Rudolph Myzet Czech Announcer
Frank Orth Benny Zinssar
Garry Owen Newsstand Man
Paul Panzer Greek Chef
Emory Parnell Fifth Avenue Cop
Pat Paterson Mrs. Cherry
Lee Phelps Train Announcer
Edward Raquello Chiari
George Sorel Major
Harry Strang Sergeant
Bernard Suss Auguste
Frank M. Thomas Bert
E. Alyn Warren Clerk, Grand Hotel
Bonita Weber Woman with Catsup
Joe Yule Comic
Technical Credits
Clarence Brown Director
Adrian Costumes/Costume Designer
William H. Daniels Cinematographer
Cedric Gibbons Art Director
Gus Kahn Songwriter
Robert J. Kern Editor
George King Choreography
George King Choreography
Wade B. Rubottom Art Director
Robert E. Sherwood Screenwriter
Herbert Stothart Score Composer, Musical Direction/Supervision
Hunt Stromberg Producer
Edwin B. Willis Set Decoration/Design
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