Claudette Colbert and Ray Milland Rise to Occasion of WWII
DIRECTED BY MITCHELL LEISEN/1940
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: AUGUST 3, 2021
When one hears the title of the 1940 Claudette Colbert/Ray Milland romantic comedy Arise, My Love, it’s fair for the first question to be, “Did they know…?” As in, did they, the makers of this movie, know the snicker-inducing double entendre of their title?
One needn’t wade too far into the opening titles to see that Arise, My Love was co-written by the great team of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett (The Major and the Minor, The Emperor Waltz). So, yeah- without a doubt, they knew. Wilder, of course, would parlay his screenwriting success of this era into one of the all-time great directorial careers, one rife with just such innuendos, both smuggled and overt.
Wade even further into the film’s first act, and one will learn of yet another layer regarding the title. During a tense jailbreak scene that culminates with our heroes commandeering an airplane, Milland’s character Tom Martin recites The Song of Solomon 2:10:
My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.
That’s right- Wilder and Brackett appropriated an Old Testament Bible verse for their title, implementing it as a passage that flyboy Martin claims he always recites when he takes off when piloting any plane. In context of the snicker-inducing joke, this origin takes on a far more subversive quality. That is, unless one knows that The Song of Solomon is, in fact the “erotic book” of the Bible. So, from the outset, the phrase “Arise, My Love” was always about that.
So, just how racy is this 81-year-old movie, anyway? As it plays out, not nearly as racy as its nearly 3000-year-old namesake. That’s the case even with the subsequent “climax” comments, which comes in reference to Colbert’s reporter character, Augusta “Gusto” Nash, trying to write a news story. By the end, though, any saucy pretense is left far behind, as “Arise, my love” becomes a personal rallying cry for beloved allied nations to rise up against the very real threat of the Third Reich.
At this point, Arise, My Love has developed from a rascally cat/and-mouse romance into a rather serious anti-Nazi screed. Billy Wilder, having fled the Nazis, knows a thing or two about their threat. In a few short years, he would learn far more, on the personal level that members of his family who refused to leave with him died in concentration camps.
Mitchell Leison, a top tier director at Paramount known for films more lavish than this, imbued this globetrotting romance with both charm and high stakes. From the first scene, Arise, My Love hooks you. Martin, a prisoner of war about to be executed by firing squad, is in the process of spending his final moments cracking wise with a worried priest when he’s notified that his wife has arranged his release, and she’s arrived to claim him. Great news, except for the minor technicality that Martin has never had a wife. This fact is apparent via Milland’s reaction even before he confesses that fact to the priest. Nevertheless, he takes the out, courtesy of Gusto. It turns out that she’s so hungry for a great story that she’s posed as Martin’s wife even though they don’t know each other from Adam. Soon enough the enemies figure out that they’ve been duped, and the chase is on.
Colbert and Milland are never not great together, even when they’re trying to get away from one another. The twist on the conventional movie romance is due to the screenplay’s eventual full commitment to rallying against Hitler, making Arise, My Love one of the earliest Hollywood pictures to do so. (1940 is also the year that Charlie Chaplin took an anti-Nazi stand with The Great Dictator, often cited as being exclusively ahead of the curve in this sense. Obviously, that’s not quite correct). Nationalistic duty threatens to keep the lovers apart, which is obviously the right choice for this moment.
Film historian Kat Ellinger provides a robust commentary track, covering the known details of why Wilder arose against Leison’s handling of his screenplay, prompting him to say “Enough’s enough”, and make a go of directing his (and his cohort Brackett’s) own material, starting with another war picture, Five Graves to Cairo. His issues aside, most anyone else will likely find little to quibble about regarding Arise, My Love. Kino’s Blu-ray edition looks terrific, having arisen to occasion indeed.