Hold Back the Dawn (1941)

It’s the age old story of an international playboy who uses a lonely small town school teacher to get himself into the United States so that he and his old dance partner can reunite and take the country (and rich American broads) by storm. Obviously, this film was made before we had a Department of Homeland Security that was specifically designed to prevent these sorts of terror attacks on the hearts of desperate women.

Charles Boyer is Romanian gigolo Georges Iscovescu and when we first meet him, he’s breathlessly trying to get into Paramount Studios to see famed Hollywood director, Mr. Saxon (played by famed Hollywood director Mitchell Leisen). Georges is trying to get $500 out of Saxon for merely telling him his story. (In an inspired bit of cross-promotion, Leisen who directed this film, had Georges find his Mr. Saxon character while he was on the Paramount lot making I Wanted Wings starring Veronica Lake! We even get to see Lake shooting a scene!)

Georges gets some bad news when an immigration official tells Georges that the quota of Romanians is very small and that Georges will have a wait of up to eight years before his number is up.

Apparently having nothing much to do with the rest of his life, Georges checks into the Espreranza Hotel in a Mexican border town.


Georges then runs into his old dance partner Anita at a bar. Anita is a player just as Georges is and she tells him that he could shortcut the eight year wait the same way she did. She married an American jockey and then once across the border divorced him. This is the sort of plan that appeals to Georges and he immediately sets out to find himself an American to marry.

After accidentally putting the moves on a married woman, he happens upon Emmy Brown from Azusa, California. Emmy is in Mexico for the usual reasons – she’s a school teacher taking her kids on a field trip!

The waiting list to transfer to the Azusa School District must be even longer than the one to let Romanians into the country because the closest I ever came to a field trip to a Mexican border town had to be that trip to the vet clinic. Watching a cat get shaved and neutered though isn’t really in the same league as watching Charles Boyer conning your old maid school teacher into becoming Mrs. Iscovescu (though the neutering wouldn’t have been such a bad idea).

So you need to remember that Georges isn’t just romancing some co-dependent dame who’s down there by herself, but is also navigating his way around an entire class of rowdy kids. And these kids have fireworks! Most awesome field trip ever!


But things get off to a rough start when one of Emmy’s students harasses him with the firecrackers and she ends up so distracted by how grouchy Georges is about it that she wrecks the school bus she was driving! Whatever the award is that is the opposite of Teacher of the Year, Emmy is a shoo-in!

They patch things up and his plan is to ditch her as soon as he gets to the States and rejoin Anita. However, once they are married, during the honeymoon that Georges reluctantly goes on, he falls in love with her! Dude, you just flunked Intro to Immigration Fraud!

That was about as believable as this movie being nominated for six Oscars, but at least the Mexican honeymoon, complete with newlywed festivals that involve shaking olive trees, liven things up a little more than the first hour which had as much energy as poor old Georges had after he found out about the eight year wait.

Tragedy and double cross are rationed at the expected levels as Anita gets wind that Georges doesn’t want to leave Emmy and rejoin her, but they throw in a happy ending that allows Emmy to retain her status as “teacher with a heart of gold and a head of sand” as well as inexplicably turning the suspicious immigration agent into a good guy as well.


Despite a script that Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett worked on, there wasn’t anything remarkable about this soapy woman’s fantasy. (Trust me – no guy is going to be thinking about how cool it would be to dump the foreign hussy for the down-to-Earth teacher, though her doormat status may appeal to some.)

Mitchell Leisen made some good films (the funny screwball comedy Easy Living immediately comes to mind) and he does what he can here, spicing up what really could have been a slow snooze by suffusing things with the hot and desperate atmosphere of the border town in general and the hotel in particular.

Really though, Emmy is too stupid to take seriously (I don’t care how lonely you are – would any sane person get married to a guy they just met while taking a bunch of little kids on a field trip in a foreign country?) and the big car wreck at the end is so obvious that Georges brags about having had a premonition about it!

Despite its Oscar nominations for picture, actress, and writing among other things (in one of Oscar’s rare flashes of common sense, it didn’t win any), don’t bother asking your mom to sign your permission slip to go see this one.

© 2016 MonsterHunter

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