Last Time I Saw Paris
Romance, Drama | 116 mins | Released: 1954
Director: Richard Brooks
Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Van Johnson, Walter Pidgeon, Donna Reed, Eva Gabor, Kurt Kasznar, George Descher
Our Rating: 7
As World War II ends in Europe, Stars and Stripes journalist Charles Wills (Van Johnson) is on the streets of Paris, covering the celebrations. He is suddenly grabbed by a beautiful woman, who kisses him and disappears. Charles follows the crowd to Café Dhingo and meets another pretty woman named Marion Elliswirth (Donna Reed). The mutual attraction is instant and she invites him to join her father’s celebration of the end of the war in Europe. Charles, Marion and her persistent French suitor Claude Matine (George Dolenz) arrive at the Elliswirth household, and we find that the woman who had kissed Charles is Marion’s younger sister Helen (Elizabeth Taylor).
Their father, James Elliswirth (Walter Pidgeon), had survived World War I and promptly joined the Lost Generation. Unlike most drifters, he never grew out of it; raising his two daughters to desire such a lifestyle. Helen takes after her father and uses her beauty to sustain a life of luxury even though they are flat broke. Marion goes the other way and looks for serious-minded and conventional young men such as Claude, an aspiring prosecutor, and Charles, the future novelist.
Charles and Helen fall in love and start dating. After Helen recovers from a near-death case of pneumonia, they get married and settle in Paris. James good-naturedly joins the happy family of Charles, with Helen eventually having a daughter Vickie (Sandy Descher). Marion, having lost Charles to Helen, agrees to marry Claude. Charles struggles to make ends meet with his meagre salary, unsuccessfully works on his novels and looks after Vickie.
At about this time, the barren oil fields in Texas James had bought years before finally begin to produce. Charles, to whom James had given the oil fields as a dowry, quits his job, and Helen and James begin to host parties instead of going to them. Sudden wealth changes Helen, who becomes more responsible, while Charles parties his wealth away after quitting his newspaper job and having all his novels rejected by publishers. They also each start to pursue other interests: Helen flirts with handsome tennis player Paul Lane (Roger Moore), while Charles competes in a local Paris-to-Monte Carlo race with professional divorcee Lorraine Quarl (Eva Gabor).
After the race, Charles returns to Paris, only to find Helen sitting in Café Dhingo with Paul. A fight breaks out between Paul and Charles, and an angry Charles goes home first and puts the chain on the door, preventing it from being opened all the way. When Helen comes home and tries to enter she can’t. She calls out to him, but Charles is in a drunken stupor on the staircase and we hear the bottle drop from his hands as Helen calls. Helen ends up having to walk all the way to her sister’s in the snow and rain. She catches pneumonia again and dies.
Marion petitions for and gets full custody of Vickie while Charles returns home to America. A few years later, having straightened himself out, published a book, and stopped boozing, Charles returns to Paris, hoping his reform will persuade Marion to give Vickie back to him. Charles tells Marion that he only has one drink a day now. Marion refuses, still feeling resentful towards Charles for having fallen for Helen instead of her. Seeing that Charles and Vickie belong together, Claude steps in and tells Marion that she is punishing Charles for his not realizing that Marion loved him. It is painful for him to tell her that he, Claude, could not have all of her love, but Charles should not be punished anymore.
Marion goes into Café Dhingo (on whose main wall is a big picture of Helen) to look for Charles (who is gazing at the painting) and tells him that Helen would not have wanted him to be alone. Outside the cafe, Claude is with Vickie. The child runs to Charles and Charles and the child walk off together as the movie ends.
The Last Time I Saw Paris is a 1954 romantic drama made by MGM. It is loosely based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Babylon Revisited.” It was directed by Richard Brooks, produced by Jack Cummings and filmed on locations in Paris and the MGM backlot. The screenplay was by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Richard Brooks.
The film starred Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson in his last role for MGM, with Walter Pidgeon, Donna Reed, Eva Gabor, Kurt Kasznar, George Dolenz, Sandy Descher, Odette, and (a then-unknown) Roger Moore in his Hollywood debut. The film’s title song, by composer Jerome Kern and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, was already memorable when the movie was made and inspired the movie’s title. Though the song had already won an Oscar after its film debut in 1941’s Lady Be Good, it is featured much more prominently in The Last Time I Saw Paris. It can be heard in many scenes, either being sung by Odette or being played as an instrumental.
The film was released in 1954; however, there was an error with the Roman numerals in the copyright notice showing “MCMXLIV” (1944), meaning the term of copyright started 10 years before the film was released. Thus, the normal 28-year copyright term ended just 18-years after the film was released, and MGM neglected to renew it presumably because they believed there was still 10 years left in the term. The film entered the public domain in the United States in 1972.
Variety called it an “engrossing romantic drama.” According to Bosley Crowther, “The story is trite. The motivations are thin. The writing is glossy and pedestrian. The acting is pretty much forced. Mr. Johnson as the husband is too bumptious when happy and too dreary when drunk; Miss Taylor as the wife is delectable, but she is also occasionally quite dull. Mr. Pidgeon is elaborately devilish, Sandra Descher as the child is over-cute, Donna Reed as the bitter sister is vapid and several others are in the same vein.”
The Time Out Film Guide said “Despite a very corny script from Julius and Philip Epstein which borrows clichés from Casablanca and countless “American in Paris” yarns, this remains an enjoyable (if heavy-handed) melodrama….Pidgeon steals the show as … a penniless chancer who still manages to live the good life.”
This is one of a handful of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer productions of the early 1950s whose original copyrights were never renewed and are now apparently in Public Domain; for this reason this title is now offered, often in very inferior copies, at bargain prices, by numerous VHS and DVD distributors who do not normally handle copyrighted or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer material.
The film is loosely based upon F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Babylon Revisited”.
While the “mystery challenger” on What’s My Line?: Episode dated 14 November 1954 (1954), Elizabeth Taylor was asked why this movie was renamed; she replied that the studio was afraid audiences would assume that a movie titled “Babylon Revisited” was about biblical subject matters.
First shown on network TV after being telecast on local stations for years.
Helen paraphrases Thomas Wolfe “You can never go home again,” a reference to one of his novels, ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’ (1940).
Watch the sheer magic of the on-screen team of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Divorce His, Divorce Hers.