Told in flashback from a preface in which the main character visits Paramount to sell his story! Romanian-French gigolo Georges Iscovescu wishes to enter the USA. Stopped in Mexico by the quota system, he decides to marry an American, then desert her and join his old partner Anita, who\'s done likewise. But after sweeping teacher Emmy Brown off her feet, he finds her so sweet that love and jealousy endanger his plans.
Charles Boyer ... Georges Iscovescu
Olivia de Havilland ... Emmy Brown
Paulette Goddard ... Anita Dixon
Victor Francen ... Van Den Luecken
Walter Abel ... Inspector Hammock
Curt Bois ... Bonbois
Rosemary DeCamp ... Berta Kurz
Eric Feldary ... Josef Kurz
Nestor Paiva ... Fred Flores
Eva Puig ... Lupita
Micheline Cheirel ... Christine
Madeleine LeBeau ... Anni
Billy Lee ... Tony
Mikhail Rasumny ... Mechanic
It is curious how times change. More than 60 years ago, people fleeing Europe went to Mexico to try to gain access to the United States. Today, instead of going the legal route, they would probably hire a coyote to take them to the other side of the border! The more things change, the more they stay the same.
This film is interesting because of the screen play by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, although the IMDB only lists the latter one as the writer. It is a mistake to bypass the great Billy Wilder, when we see his imprint everywhere in the movie.
The movie begins with a disheveled Charles Boyer going to the Paramount lot to talk to the director, Mitchell Leisen. Boyer\'s character, George Iscovescu, has met the director in the Riviera and comes to beg for a loan of $500, a tidy sum in those days. From there the story unfolds.
George quickly learns after arriving in the border town, that because being Rumanian he must wait about 8 years to enter the United States because of immigration quotas. He quickly learns the only way to make it across the border is if he would marry an American woman, and voila!, Emmy Brown, just happens to come to spend the 4th of July holiday with her students, thus his chance to make it in a legal way.
The cast of the film is excellent. Charles Boyer, in spite of not being upfront with the naive Emmy, doesn\'t make us hate him. He redeems himself at the end. Olivia de Havilland was perfect for the immature Emmy. She falls in love with a man that is trying to use her as his ticket to the promised land. Paulette Goddard, as Anita was very good. Walter Abel is the despised Inspector Hammock, the immigration officer everyone in town hates.
Billy Wilder knew first hand what it was to be a refugee in the 1930s - he was one of the lucky ones. He came from Austria, originally, and fled in a timely manner before the Nazis\' Anschluss in 1938. His family still suffered - many perished in the camps. But he was able, due to his stage and film work in Europe, to find employment in Hollywood. This enabled him to avoid the savage pitfalls of the American immigration quota system set up in the 1920s. You normally had to wait for an opening in the number of immigrants coming from each country to pass into the U.S.A., unless of course you were guaranteed a job or career in the U.S.A. That\'s why Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi had no problems showing up in the U.S. with their physics backgrounds and reputations. But how many people were like them, or like the creative film personality Wilder? Taking Kitti Frings\' original story of European refugees in Mexico, Wilder and his partner Charles Brackett constructed the script for HOLD BACK THE DAWN. George Iscovescu (Charles Boyer)is a Rumanian gigolo who has ended up on the Mexican/American border. We see he has sneaked into the U.S., and is in Hollywood at Paramount Studios. He approaches a director a friend told him about, Dwight Saxon (Mitchel Leisin - the director of this film). The film we watch is the story that Iscovescu wants to interest Saxon in producing as a film.
Iscovescu is a pretty rotten individual - he uses his good looks and charm on women and lives off them. Only one woman (Anita Dixon - Paulette Goddard) is aware of his heel\'s personality, as she is an opportunist as well. She and George were an item together as dancing partners in Europe. Both are trying to get into America, but the quota is keeping George out. This is a relief to Inspector Hammock (Walter Abel) who is an astute member of the immigration service, and fully aware of how \"desireable\" both these people are as potential U.S. citizens. However, in 1941 there was a way to get into the U.S. if you could not fit a quota, or if you had no guaranteed job. The method (which was legal until about five years ago) was that you could marry an American citizen and become one. This method was misused, so the immigration service made sure that the marriages were truly love matches and then decided they were not good enough anymore. But that was long after 1941.
George looks for someone he can quickly marry, gain citizenship through, and then discard in a year or so. He finds an American school teacher named Emmy Brown (Olivia De Haviland), who is a little naive. He romances very quickly, and within a few weeks George and Emmy are married. Hammock is observing all this, and tries to warn Emmy, but she won\'t hear anything about George. The problem though is that Emmy is so in love with George that (despite his man-of-the-world shell) he starts responding to it. Anita keeps reminding him to go across the border, and send for her, but instead (to her growing dismay) she finds that George is spending all of his time getting to know Emmy better - and actually falling in love with her. Jealous and angry, Anita decides to reveal George and her past to Emmy - and the crisis of the film comes out of this revelation.
Frankly from my description one can say that HOLD BACK THE DAWN is superior soap opera. But in fact Wilder and Brackett took a serious look at the problem of immigration. Besides the antics of George and Anita and Emmy, they look at Professor Van den Leuken (Victor Francen, in one of his nicer parts), a minor-Fermi or Einstein, waiting for a college position promised him to be cleared: Bonbois (Curt Bois), a French hairdresser, hoping for an opening in the quota - who happens (thanks to Van den Leuken) to discover he has a secret historical weapon that will open his way into America; and - possibly the most touching figure in the film - Berta Kurz (Rosemary De Camp) a German (probably German Jewish) refugee with her husband, who is pregnant and really determined that her child is going to be an American citizen come hell or high water. And she achieves her goal.
The acting was of high order, and really Olivia De Haviland\'s best part after GONE WITH THE WIND two years earlier. If Melanie Wilkes was a decent, brave example of southern womanhood, Emmy is a woman who gradually finds she is an adult woman with sexual feelings. As a result of her performance, De Haviland got her first nomination for a best actress Oscar, but (ironically - and bitterly) she would lose to her own sister Joan Fontaine for SUSPICION.
Boyer played one of his darker figures, like Pepi Le Moko, who one could sympathize with after a fact - especially after he reveals he has a finer self than we thought. As for Goddard, this film and the earlier THE WOMAN demonstrated that she was a highly capable actress - not just a good reactor to her first husband Charlie Chaplin in two movies.
Wilder and Bracket had clashed with Leisin on other joint projects, just as Preston Sturgis had. This would prove to be the last screenplay by them that he (or any other director) would direct. Well enough for Wilder perhaps (and even his then partner Charles Brackett). But despite their complaints, Leisin\'s work was quite above average in this movie.
It is a sad reflection that many of the movies made so long ago still compare brilliantly with the best of today. \"Hold Back the Dawn\" is one of those - superbly put together by Billy Wilder & Charles Brackett, and with some of the finest acting of 1941. Outtanding are Charles Boyer, in what I feel is his best acting, and Olivia de Havilland who apparently had to go to Paramount to be appreciated (her two Oscar films were made there, and she was nominated also for this one!) is a standout. Paulette Goddard in a role almost written for her was very good, and the supporting cast was excellent. Migrants trying to get into the United States has always been a hot topic, but here it is treated sympathetically in a very informative way. I have to say the ending was not well done, and one gets the feeling all was not well somewhere.
* Iscovescu appears at the Paramount soundstage to peddle his life story to director Mitchell Leisen. Veronica Lake and Richard Webb are shown rehearsing a scene from I Wanted Wings (1941) (also directed by Leisen). This scene was actually filmed during the production of \"I Wanted Wings\".
* The hotel in Tijuana where the immigrants wait anxiously for U.S. visas is the Hotel Esperanza. Esperanza is Spanish for \"hope.\"
* The original script included an early scene where Charles Boyer talks to a cockroach in his room. Boyer dismissed the scene as idiotic and convinced director Mitchell Leisen to delete it; screenwriters Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett were so incensed at Leisen for giving in they resolved to direct and produce their own movies from then on.
* Paramount paid $5000 for Ketti Frings\' story \"Memo to a Movie Producer,\" before any novel was published. The working title of the movie therefore was \"Memo to a Movie Producer,\" but was changed to \"Hold Back the Dawn\" when the novel was published before the movie was released.
* Mitchell Leisen joined the Screen Actors Guild so he could play the part of the director of I Wanted Wings (1941), but he donated his acting wages to charity. The scene depicted from that movie was reshot specifically for inclusion in this movie.