Top positive review
Fine Elizabeth Taylor Performance In Excellent Romance Story
on March 4, 2004
"The Last Time I Saw Paris", was a very important film in a number of ways for Elizabeth Taylor and she herself has commented in interviews that it was the first of her adult acting roles where she had a character to work with that wasn't just surface glamour but had deeper more interesting dimensions to it. Certainly her character of Helen Wills does reveal a new depth in her acting and most certainly helped pave the way for her great triumphs in the coming years in top class films like "Giant", and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" that elevated her to super stardom. Interestingly this was Elizabeth's second teaming with leading man Van Johnson having already worked with him in a trite little comedy called "The Big Hangover". This time around Elizabeth Taylor is first billed in the credits over veteran MGM performer Johnson which illustrates clearly her growing worth with MGM who were now seriously grooming her for more meaty adult roles.
Based on a short story called "Babylon Revisited" by none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald, the screen writers have fashioned a tragically poignant love story that tells the story of two star crossed lovers who seemed to have "missed the boat", in obtaining a meaning in their lives in Post War Paris. Van Johnson plays Charles Wills a young reporter for the "Stars and Stripes" in Paris. He secretly dreams of writing the great novel that is in his head and in the midst of the celebrations for VE Day he encounters two very different sisters, Helen Ellswirth a flighty, beautiful fun loving girl not used to any responsibilty and her older sister Marion (Donna Reed),the down to earth emotionally repressed one. Both women are like night and day and while Marion falls for Charles it is Helen who captures his eye and his heart. They marry and Charles enters the unorthodox world of the Ellswirth family presided over by Helen and Marion's lovable but laid back father James (Walter Pidgeon in a delightful performance). They lead the gilded life of young carefree Americans in Paris and eventually have a daughter Vicki however as time goes on and the book rejections pile up for Charles the glow goes out of their marriage and the two begin to drift apart. Continually rejected by her increasingly embittered husband, Helen captures the attention of free loading tennis pro Paul Lane (Roger Moore) while Charles, beginning to slide into a drinking problem finds himself attracted to the carefree life offered by socialite Lorraine Quarl (Eva Gabor), another member of the lost generation aimlessly wandering through life's pleasures. All looks lost for the couple who have gone off in different directions and it takes a tragedy where Helen dies of pheumonia and Vicki is placed in the custody of an embittered Marion and her husband Claude (George Dolenz) for Charles to start to pick up the pieces of his life again. The story concludes with a sober Charles returning to all the old scenes of his former happiness with Helen in Paris in an effort to reclaim his daughter and begin afresh.
The film may be viewed by some as glossy romance and not much more however it is the sensible writing and outstanding acting by the principles that bring it to life. Elizabeth Taylor as stated displays a new maturity to her acting here and her chemistry with a very different performer as Van Johnson is surpringly honest and touching in particular in the more emotionally charged second half of the film. Van Johnson in a more mature role than usual delivers some of his best work in my belief and shows that he can be effective in poignant drama such as here. Donna Reed plays against her usual type as the embittered sister who misses out on the real love of her life and being normally associated with sweet characters her performance here does come across as quite startling. Walter Pidgeon, succeeds in stealing every scene he is in in a terrific later day performance. His carefree and perpetually broke aristocrat is a delightful character and he makes the most of his screen time. He displays a wonderful chemistry with Elizabeth Taylor and the two seem like two peas in a pod, both free spirits, in the opening scenes of the film. Pidgeon had already played Taylor's father once before in one of his teamings with Greer Garson in "Julia Misbehaves", in 1947. Eva Gabor rounds out the cast and displays her often underestimated talent in the role of the glamourous man trap who drifts from one husband to the next with little concern. Her ultimately sad character epitomises the "lost generation" that Fitzgerald captured so well in his short stories. Being after all a romance the film has a beautiful visual look to it with terrific on location photography around Paris used for many of Van Johnson's exterior shots. The recreation of the VE Day celebrations where real footage is intermingled with studio created scenes is first rate and really sets an accurate picture of the time and the place. Ably directed by Richard Brooks, the sterling work he got from Elizabeth Taylor here was bettered again by their next teaming in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", for which Elizabeth received an Oscar nomination.
For lovers of romance in beautiful locations, "The Last Time I Saw Paris", is wonderful entertainment however this film is more than just that. It vividly recreates the feeling of a time in our fairly recent history and of the people who seemingly lost their way amid all the effort and heartbreak of reestablishing their lives in a post war world. Elizabeth Taylor went on to top stardom after this role and much of the credit for this film's quality acting wise must go to her. Highly recommended.