War Time in Paris
"Arch of Triumph" is a movie in the same light as "Casablanca" a movie about a doomed romance but unfortunately despite a high calibre cast which includes Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer and Charles Laughton it doesn't spark in to life in the same way. Why? Well it's worth knowing that the first cut of "Arch of Triumph" was 4 hours long and in reducing it to a more reasonable 2 hours certain elements and characters were left out or reduced. And in a way whilst for me "Arch of Triumph" still ends up feeling too long I am sure that some of what had been left out would have expanded on the doomed romance to make it come to life.
Paris in the winter of 1938 and Dr. Ravic (Charles Boyer - Barefoot in the Park) is one of many illegal refugees trying to keep a low profile so that they don't caught and get deported for not having the right papers. It forces Ravic to practice medicine on the secret, a difficult task for a man who feels he is there to help others. But he is also haunted by Nazi enemy Haake (Charles Laughton - Spartacus) who killed his girlfriend back in Germany and who he wants to get revenge on. When he comes to the aid of the distraught Joan Madou (Ingrid Bergman - Notorious), Ravic does his best not to fall for her as he fears history repeating itself and doesn't want to see her get hurt but he is unable to prevent himself.
In a way "Arch of Triumph" feels like it should be a classic, we have a nicely put together ill-fated romance and that is backed up by depth as we have the character of Dr. Ravic and his situation, from needing to keep a low profile to the hatred of Haake. It certainly builds nicely, painting a picture of the secretive life of Ravic who is a "Ghost surgeon", called in to operate late at night when he will go unnoticed. And at the same time in a blink of an eye we see this restrained but helpful man turn hateful when he sees Haake again. He is a fascinating character which is easy to understand because he is real, a man who controls his emotions in fear of what will happen if he gets close to others.
Now this leads in nicely to the complex but ill fated romance between Ravic and Joan which slowly comes together till there is certainly a release of emotion between them, with Ravic letting go of his fear. I won't go into detail why it is ill-fated but will say it's not simple; things conspire to make their relationship difficult all brought about from Ravic being an illegal refugee but one by nature feels it is his place to help those in need of medical attention. It is nicely put together to create a thoughtful series of events which finish in a perfect manner.
The trouble is that at times "Arch of Triumph" doesn't flow and it feels to me that important scenes were left out in order to make it run to a more acceptable length. The irony of this is that because it feels a little disjointed it ends up feeling overlong and I am sure that if many of those scenes which were left on the cutting room floor has been included it would have been smoother and not feel as long as it does.
Never the less the performances are class which is what you expect from Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. Both Bergman and Boyer not only deliver characters with different layers but they make them feel real, you understand them from how they act and respond rather than being spoon-fed information about them. And whilst for me the romantic spark doesn't feel right you still grow fond of them as a couple.
What this all boils down to is that if you are a fan of movies about ill-fated romances then "Arch of Triumph" is well worth a watch. But there is something about it which doesn't work and it ends up feeling disjointed and overlong.