Two young neighbouring English children growing up in the outskirts of Paris, Gogo (Dickie Moore) and Mimsey (Virginia Weidler), squabble over some wooden boards they should be sharing, when Gogo’s mother passes away. Mimsey’s mother cares for the boy as well, allowing the children to grow very close, until Gogo’s uncle takes him away to town, renaming him Peter Ibbetson. Peter grows up to be an accomplished architect (Gary Cooper), but feels there is something missing in his life due to the torch he still holds for Mimsey all these years later, which causes problems when he runs into her (Ann Harding), only she’s now married to someone else (John Halliday).
This movie. This. Fucking. Movie. It’s amongst the list of “Bad” films on the 1001 List provided to me by Steve Honeywell of 1001Plus and, to begin with, I couldn’t see why it was deemed quite so terrible. Sure, the two kids at the start are grating and irritating, but what child actors aren’t? And yes, Gary Cooper’s delivery is often quite stiff and she shares little chemistry with Ann Harding, but that hardly makes it awful, right? No, it doesn’t. What does, though, is all the nonsense in the film’s second half that I’m going to take great joy in spoiling, because fuck this film and everything about it.
So the kids get separated, Peter goes on a little holiday from London back to Paris, where he realises he’s still in love with little 8 year old Mimsey (real name Mary), which leads to a creepily hilarious scene where he tells his blind boss Mr. Slade (Donald Meek, who thinks dropping his “h”s gives him an accent) that he’d met a girl on holiday, she was 8 years old and wore a white dress, and this understandably freaks Slade out somewhat. Upon returning home to London Peter is immediately whisked away to Yorkshire to redesign and rebuild the stables of the Duke and Duchess of Towers, whereupon Peter and the Duchess fall in love. It’s not until the Duke announcing he knows about their feelings for one another, despite Peter and the Duchess not having so much as held hands, that they realise they are in fact the childhood sweethearts from the start of the film that everyone watching knows about. An altercation ensues, in which Peter throws a chair at the Duke, somehow killing him and earning himself life imprisonment, over a woman he has yet to even kiss. Earlier that day the two would-be lovers realised they had miraculously shared a dream with each other. In prison, Peter decides to starve himself to death and the night he thinks he will die he dreams he is once again with Mary, who tries to convince him they are sharing the dream again. He believes her when a promise she makes in the dream comes true (he actually dies in the night, but somehow awakes alive again the next morning) and the two live out their lives apart during the day – he in prison chained to the wall, she living in her dead husband’s lavish estate – but every night they dream together, until they die and spend eternity in heaven with each other. What utter tripe.
This is a From Dusk Till Dawn level of rug-pulling insanity, but where that then provides buckets of entertainment and fun when the supernatural switch occurs, here it’s nothing but tedium and nonsense. Peter is literally pronounced dead by a doctor, yet whilst dead is still able to dream, and it’s the power of that dream that breathes life back into his corpse. Later, when Mary eventually passes of old age, she someone crawls back from the afterlife to provide Peter with a message of hope that they will see one another again. This would all be a little more OK were there any sort of mythological indications early on, but this starts out like a standard romantic drama, all the living-together-in-dreams bullshit feels like one person wrote the first half of the script, then a completely different writer known for a completely different genre wrote the second. It’d be like Stephen King finishing off a Lee Childs novel. I was especially annoyed because early on I was starting to empathise with the adult Peter, an architect who refuses to work on designs he doesn’t like or believe in – I sometimes wish I had that level of conviction with my day job. He’s someone who has never really had a dream – neither have I – and he feels there’s something missing, something out there to fill that hole inside him. Turns out it was a shovel full of bullshit.
It’s not often that a film makes me genuinely angry, but Peter Ibbetson did. And what a boring title too.
Choose Life 2/10
Besides the sheer idiocy of the plot this movie also takes the price for loading tons and tons of romantic tripe upon its viewers. You have to be extremely romantically inclined not to gag over this. My eyes got tired from eye-rolling, that is my clearest memory of this film.
Why is it even on the list?
I’m away from my copy of the book right now, but I’m quite looking forward to getting home and reading the entry on this film in a few days, to see just what justification there is for its inclusion, because like you I can’t think of any.
This movie should have been about Dickie Moore and Virginia Weidler as Paris street urchins with very good manners running around the sewers and evading the truant officer (George Zucco) and making friends with a suave hobo (Charles Boyer) and a thinly disguised prostitute (Miriam Hopkins). They are fed by two gruff but kindly ladies (Una O’Connor and Edna May Oliver) who run a pastry shop.
I don’t know, I didn’t particularly like the child actors either, although since your plot ejects all of the dream nonsense then it would probably have been better than the rubbish we got instead. Hell yes for including Una O’Connor.
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