We'll hop the pond with "Dodsworth" (1936), a grown-up drama of the first rank. Starring the nonpareil Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton, this movie version of the Sinclair Lewis novel follows a retired American automobile magnate (who never needed a bailout) and his wife from the American Midwest to Europe (Paris, Vienna, Florence). There, they find themselves -- or, rather, different things about themselves -- beginning in London. London also serves as backdrop to a key section of "Random Harvest" (1942), a deeply satisfying, everything-works-out weepie, in which Ronald Colman plays a shellshocked veteran of the Great War who loses his memory of everything, including wife Greer Garson.
I wasn't sure I could come up with a movie set even partially set in Brussels, backdrop to many recent columns. But I did with "The Cat and the Fiddle" (1934), a charming adaptation of a frothy and tuneful Jerome Kern/Otto Harbach musical starring Jeanette McDonald and Ramon Novarro, which shifts between Brussels and Paris.
Paris, the inspiration of so many movies, is easy. My first choice is the unsurpassed romantic comedy "Midnight" (1939), starring Claudette Colbert as a broke American chorus girl who bluffs her way into French society. Don Ameche, John Barrymore and Mary Astor also star. Next is "Desire" (1936), a romantic comedy starring the exotic Marlene Dietrich as a continental jewel thief who crosses paths (in Paris, Biarritz and Spain) with straight arrow Gary Cooper, who, come to think of it, is another Yank from the automobile industry.
For Swiss Alps escapism, the movie is "Private Lives" (1931), a completely perfect, eternally crackling Noel Coward comedy that opens on the French Riviera. There, a divorced couple (Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery) find themselves honeymooning with their new spouses in adjoining suites, ultimately running off together to a Swiss chalet.
Moving on to Prague, there is "The Shop Around the Corner" (1940), one of the most tenderly affecting romantic comedies ever made. Starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan, it was remade as "You've Got Mail" in 1998.
Last stop on the tour is Vienna, the setting for "The Great Waltz" (1938). This overlooked gem is based loosely and exuberantly on the life of Viennese waltz king Johann Strauss; it stars Fernand Gravet, Luise Rainer and the phenomenal coloratura soprano Miliza Korjus -- enchantment for music lovers.
So there you have it. Around the world in 1,075 minutes. And guaranteed to boost low spirits and blow out holiday blahs.
Happy New Year.
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