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Paris, 1940. France is at war with Germany, but Parisians carry on their daily lives, secure in the belief that they're protected against invasion by the Maginot Line. Ann Morgan (Ann Dvorak), an American fashion designer, and Bill Hamilton (Griffith Jones), a British soldier assigned to intelligence, meet cute when her car bumps into his outside the Parisian fashion house where she works. Ann and Bill fall in love, but their idyll is threatened when Bill learns that Ann is suspected of being a Nazi collaborator. Unknown to Ann, her boss and trusted friend Raoul de la Vague (Harold Huth) is plotting with the mysterious visitor Van der Stuyl (Robert Morley), who is actually a Nazi. Bill's friend, hard-drinking Australian reporter Butch (Ben Lyon), has his suspicions about Van der Stuyl, and begins investigating. As the German forces get closer to the city, Ann joins the war effort by driving an ambulance donated by Raoul to the front, unaware that a message for the Nazis is hidden inside. Ann, Bill, and Butch find their lives in danger as Paris falls to the Germans.
Produced by Warner Bros. at Teddington Studios in 1941, This Was Paris was one of several made in support of the war effort for both British and American audiences. Top-billed were two expatriate American stars who were both living in London, and had been stars in American films of the 1930s. Ann Dvorak had been a chorus girl in early talkies, when Howard Hughes put her under contract and cast her as Paul Muni's sister in Scarface (1931). Hughes sold her contract to Warner Bros., and Dvorak began getting some strong dramatic roles in such films as Three on a Match (1932), but she was unhappy with the contract. Newly married to British actor-director Leslie Fenton (her co-star in The Strange Love of Molly Louvain, 1932), she went to England until the studio offered more money. She returned, but after that she rarely got the choice roles, and in 1937, after years of battling and suspensions, her Warners contract was terminated by mutual consent. When the war in Europe began, Dvorak and Fenton went to England in 1940, where Fenton joined the Royal Navy. Dvorak joined the Women's Land Army, drove an ambulance during the Blitz, wrote newspaper articles, and broadcast on the BBC. She also made This Was Paris and three other British films supporting the war effort. In 1944, Dvorak and Fenton returned to America. They divorced in 1946. She retired in 1951, and died in 1979.
Ben Lyon was second-billed in This Was Paris, but his role is a supporting one. His long career had begun in silent films, and he was best known for playing one of two pilot brothers in Howard Hughes' early talkie aviation epic, Hell's Angels (1930). In that film, he piloted his own plane -- he had trained as a pilot in World War I. That same year, he married actress Bebe Daniels. In the mid-1930s, their film careers declining, the couple began touring with a vaudeville act. After a kidnapping threat (their daughter was born in 1931), they took their vaudeville act to England, and were such a success that they decided to move there permanently, appearing in vaudeville and on radio. They began their enormously popular radio show, Hi Gang, as entertainment for the troops soon after England went to war in 1940. When the U.S. joined the conflict, Lyon, a reservist, joined the U.S. Air Force, and Daniels also did war work. After the war, they had a television show, Life with the Lyons, which ran from 1950 to 1961 on British TV, and featured their two children, Barbara and Richard. The format was similar to The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Lyon also was a talent agent for 20th Century Fox, and later an independent talent agent. After Daniels' death in 1971, Lyon returned to America to live, and married former actress Marian Nixon. He died in 1979.
The leading man in This Was Paris, Griffith Jones, enjoyed a remarkably long and distinguished career in British theater and film, which began at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in the early 1930s and ended at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1999, when he was in his late 80s. Along the way, he managed to fit in a film career, appearing in the British-made MGM film, A Yank at Oxford (1938), as well as dozens of British films, including Laurence Olivier's Henry V (1944). Jones died in 2007, at the age of 97.
Also worth noting in This Was Paris is the marvelous British character actor Robert Morley, early in his career, playing the villainous Van der Stuyl with a mad gleam in his eyes. Morley had earned an Oscar® nomination for his striking film debut just a few years earlier in Marie Antoinette (1938), playing the awkward King Louis XVI. Another expatriate American living in London makes a brief appearance in This Was Paris. Elisabeth Welch, the singer in a nightclub sequence, had moved to London in the 1930s and became a major nightclub and theater star both there and in Paris. Besides musical cameos in films, she also co-starred with Paul Robeson in two films, Song of Freedom (1936), and Big Fella (1937). Like Lyon and Dvorak, Welch also did her bit during the war, entertaining British troops in Gibraltar and the Middle East.
The romance during wartime story of This Was Paris was soon eclipsed by the superior hokum of Casablanca, released later in 1942. But with its fast-moving story, excellent production values, good performances, and in-the-moment urgency, This Was Paris is an interesting time capsule and good entertainment.
Director: John Harlow
Producer: Max Milder
Screenplay: Brock Williams, Edward Dryhurst, Based on a story by Gordon Wellesley and Basil Woon
Cinematography: Basil Emmott
Editor: Leslie Norman
Costume Design: Norman Hartnell
Art Direction: Norman Arnold
Music: Jack Beaver
Cast: Ann Dvorak (Ann Morgan), Ben Lyon (Butch), Griffith Jones (Bill Hamilton), Robert Morley (Van der Stuyl), Harold Huth (De la Vague), Mary Maguire (Blossom Leroy), Harry Welchman (Forsyth), Frederick Burtwell (Entwhistle), Vera Bogetti (Mme. Florien), Marian Spencer (Lady Muriel).
by Margarita Landazuri