Diana West

"Desire" (1936): A gem of a caper with jewel thief Marlene Dietrich and her gang roping in wide-eyed auto engineer Gary Cooper -- who sets them and their continental decadence straight as an American arrow.

"That Girl from Paris" (1936): Parisian opera star Lily Pons sneaks into the United States for American bandleader (Gene Raymond) and -- incredible as it seems -- runs afoul of immigration laws. Charming.

"Dodsworth" (1936): American auto magnate (amazing Walter Huston) and wife (amazing Ruth Chatterton) set out to discover how to "live" in the Old World, starting in Paris. Should be on everyone's Top Ten List.

"Midnight" (1939): Another Top Ten Listee. With effortless wit, easy sophistication, and a scene-stealing John Barrymore, Claudette Colbert can't give in to European decadence, no matter how hard she tries (Don Ameche and scriptwriters Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder don't let her). Directed by Mitchell Leisen.

"Ninotchka" (1939): Greta Garbo as the communist official who can't resist Paris or Melvyn Douglas. Another Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder comedy classic, this one directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

"Arise My Love" (1940): Claudette Colbert again; Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder again; Mitchell Leisen again. Romantic comedy about Claudette Colbert the syndicated columnist chasing the story of Europe on the brink of World War II, and Ray Milland the Spanish Civil War vet chasing Miss Colbert. A big boost for American interventionism. 

"Casablanca" (1942): The most famous of them all. "We'll always have Paris," Humphrey Bogart tells Ingrid Bergman in this World War II drama written by Julius J. and Phillip G. Epstein. Not to be forgotten is the vocal battle between "Die Wacht am Rhein" and "La Marseillaise."

"An American in Paris" (1951): Lush American celluloid canvas of Paris, with Gershwin score, Vincente Minelli direction and Gene Kelly ballet.

"The Last Time I Saw Paris" (1954): With Van Johnson and Elizabeth Taylor and also written by the Epstein brothers, this one's a soap opera, but it's also powerfully evocative of the postwar Paris that enthralled so many Americans.

These movies, these images, may or may not have reflected reality -- it was always said that Ernst Lubitsch's Paris surpassed the real thing -- but they were artistic perceptions of a time and place. Today, they seem more like figments of imagination. Thankfully, they're figments preserved on DVD.


Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).