Cast & Crew
Olivia De Havilland
Roumanian immigrant George Iscovescu sneaks onto the Paramount studio lot in Hollywood to sell a story idea to director Saxon. Desperate for $500, George convinces Saxon to listen to the true story of George's life for the past year: At the outbreak of World War II, George flees from Europe to Mexico, from where he hopes to gain easy entry into the U.S. Due to the quota system, he is told that he must wait five to eight years to immigrate. Discouraged by this news, George checks into the dollar-a-day Esperanza Hotel in a border town. He meets his old flame and former dance partner, Anita Dixon, who tells him that she got citizenship by marrying an American and leaving him shortly thereafter. George, a gigolo and con man, immediately embarks on the same scheme, as many Americans have flooded into town for the Independence Day bullfight and celebration. George's victim is Emmy Brown, a naïve schoolteacher from Azusa, California, who is on a field trip. After George secretly sabotages the repair of the school bus, Emmy is forced to spend the night in the lobby of the Esperanza with her students. At first resistant to George's charm, Emmy soon falls for his artful words of love and they marry the next morning. Although Emmy has to return to Azusa with her students, George must wait four weeks before he will be allowed into the States. He immediately resumes his affair with Anita, and together they plan to go to New York after he leaves Emmy. To their surprise, Emmy reappears a week later, having been given leave by her school principal and been loaned the school bus with which to take her honeymoon. George is disconcerted by her presence and because immigration inspector Hammock is investigating suspicious marriages, he takes Emmy out of town immediately. After a long drive they end up in another small town that is celebrating multiple weddings. The high spirits of the place affect George and he falls in love with Emmy despite himself. Out of consideration for her, however, he pretends to have injured his shoulder on their honeymoon night so that she retains her innocence. After a week they return to the Esperanza where a jealous Anita discovers that George now intends to let Emmy down slowly. Anita reveals George's sordid past and his motives to Emmy, who is shocked, but nonetheless protects George when Hammock interrogates her about their "quickie" marriage. Emmy blames herself for being duped and leaves for Azusa, but crashes her car along the way. News of her accident reaches George and he illegally drives across the border. George successfully evades the police and arrives at the hospital in time to restore Emmy's will to live. Knowing that she will recover, he escapes the police again and slips into the Paramount studios to tell Saxon his story, intending to repay Emmy's savings that she had given him with the money he earns from the studio. Hammock catches up with George at the studio and forcibly returns him to Mexico. One day, Hammock finds a dispirited George, who has broken off all relations with Anita, and informs him that he did not record his previous arrest and that he is free to enter the U.S. Hammock then leads George across the border, where Emmy waits to rejoin her true love.
Olivia De Havilland
Sonny Boy Williams
June Terry Pickrell
William D. Faralla
Daniel F. Rea
Harold F. Landon
Mrs. Wilfrid North
Gordon De Main
Harry A. Caplan
Arthur Hornblow Jr.
La Prele Jones
Best Art Direction
Best Original Screenplay
Hold Back the Dawn
Nearly everything about this production worked out to the great advantage of Olivia de Havilland, who received great reviews and an Academy Award® nomination for her performance as the teacher. Although she had been nominated for her supporting role in Gone with the Wind (1939), De Havilland was still fighting with her studio, Warner Brothers, for better roles. She was a popular star at the time but was growing tired of being little more than window dressing in Errol Flynn action pictures. Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, then Paramount's leading screenwriting team, had De Havilland in mind when they wrote this script, but they knew Jack Warner never loaned his stars out unless he wanted another studio's performer in return, and even then a Warners contractee came with a hefty price tag. Luckily, Jack Warner wanted Paramount's Fred MacMurray for a Flynn movie, so he read Paramount executives a list of names he'd be willing to trade for the actor. They played it very cool, offering no reaction when Warner mentioned De Havilland's name. Some days later, they called back to say that since they needed somebody for a new movie about to go before the cameras, De Havilland would just have to do. Warner released her with no additional cost and Brackett, Wilder and director Mitchell Leisen got the star they wanted all along.
De Havilland was thrilled to be working with Leisen, a former designer and set decorator who treated her with the attention and respect she did not often get from her usual directors at Warners. She was also excited to be working with French import Charles Boyer - a little too excited at first. Boyer was already an important star of several years by this time and growing a little weary of the "Great Lover" roles he was usually offered because of his Gallic charm. He longed for something more complex to show his considerable acting chops and jumped at the chance to play the Romanian who sexually awakens a small-town girl and is in turn transformed and redeemed by her love. De Havilland was so taken with her leading man that in early scenes where she is supposed to be affecting disinterest in his advances, she clearly showed the opposite in her eyes. Without explanation, Leisen ordered retakes on the scenes several days later. Nervous that the director didn't like her performance and regretted casting her, she replayed the scenes much more contained and wary. It was exactly what Leisen wanted. She didn't find out the reason for the retake until many years later when she was being interviewed by a writer who had also interviewed Leisen.
Finally, De Havilland's part was beefed up by the writers out of revenge against Boyer. Brackett and Wilder had written a scene in which the Romanian torments a cockroach trying to climb a mirror, constantly brushing the bug down while "questioning" the insect as an immigration officer would someone trying to cross the border. The writers were especially proud of the way the scene showed the Romanian's hopelessness and his cynical comment on the way authorities reacted to his plight. Boyer, however, felt the scene was idiotic and degrading and refused to do it. It was cut from the picture. Brackett and Wilder, still writing as the film was being shot, changed subsequent scenes, throwing the balance to De Havilland's character to the detriment of Boyer. The actor had hoped the film would give audiences and producers a new respect for his talent and range; instead, his leading lady ended up with the best notices and an Oscar® nomination. She lost to her younger sister Joan Fontaine in Suspicion (1941), fueling the feud between the siblings, although she did earn the New York Film Critics Circle's Best Actress award.
Wilder and Brackett's screenplay was also nominated (along with nominations for Best Picture, Art Direction, Cinematography and Music) but by then the damage had been done. Fed up with having their work changed by directors and production executives, they determined to make their own films from that point on. Their next project was The Major and the Minor (1942), directed by Wilder and employing the talents of Hold Back the Dawn's cinematographer Leo Tover and editor Doane Harrison. Before dissolving their partnership in the early 1950s, the pair co-wrote 6 films directed by Wilder, including Sunset Boulevard (1950) and the multiple Oscar®-winner The Lost Weekend (1945).
Brackett and Wilder weren't the only ones infuriated by the changes to the story; in fact, they were the cause of someone else's fury. Writer Ketti Frings based the story of Hold Back the Dawn on her own marriage. A magazine writer, Ketti met former European lightweight boxing champ Kurt Frings while on vacation in Europe. They married, but he was still not able to enter the U.S., so they set up home in Tijuana, where she commuted to work in Los Angeles every day, getting to know many other would-be immigrants waiting just across the border for permission to take up American residency. She wrote a treatment for a screenplay and sold it to producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr. and eventually turned it into a novel. But she was livid when the screenwriters transformed the husband into a shady gigolo and the wife into a naive small-town schoolteacher. Ketti Frings shortly after went into screenwriting herself and her husband became an agent. Among his future clients was Olivia De Havilland.
Leisen himself played the film director the Romanian approaches for a possible screenplay sale. When we first see him he is directing a scene from a movie starring Paramount players Veronica Lake and Brian Donlevy. The scene was shot while the two were working under Leisen's direction in the film he made just prior to this one, I Wanted Wings (1941).
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Producers: Arthur Hornblow, Jr.
Screenplay: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, based on the book by Ketti Frings
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Editing: Doane Harrison
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Robert Usher
Original Music: Victor Young, John Leipold
Cast: Charles Boyer (Georges Iscovescu), Olivia de Havilland (Emmy Brown), Paulette Goddard (Anita Dixon), Walter Abel (Inspector Hammock), Rosemary DeCamp (Berta Kurz).
by Rob Nixon
Hold Back the Dawn
The film opens with the following written prologue: "Perhaps the best way to begin this story is to tell you how it came to us. One day last August into the Paramount Studios in Hollywood walked a man...." The working titles of this film were Ensenada, The Golden Door and Memo to a Movie Producer. According to information in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library, Paramount purchased a story by Ketti Frings titled "Memo to a Movie Producer" for $5,000. Her novel, Hold Back the Dawn, based on this story, was published before this film was released.
When this production was first announced in the trade papers, Harry J. Anslinger, the United States Commissioner of Narcotics in the Treasury Department took an interest in the matter. Letters in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library reveal that Anslinger advised the MPPA that Ketti Frings's husband, Kurt Frings, on whose experiences her novel was based, was a "notorious international character" whose residency in the United States was then under consideration by the Congress. Anslinger stated that "in all probability, Kurt Frings related a story in which imagination played a greater part than fact..." and suggested that a film based on the novel would cause friction between the United States and Mexico. PCA Director Joseph I. Breen consulted with Paramount and noted in his response letter that "the studio...is rather startled by the quite patent inference set forth" in Anslinger's letter and would contact him for further discussion. The final outcome of this exchange was not included in any documentation in these files. However, modern sources report that Kurt Frings, a German championship boxer whom Ketti Frings met in Mexico while he was emigrating to the United States, threatened a lawsuit against Paramount after reading the screenplay based on his wife's story because the character of "Iscovescu" had become disreputable, and he feared that this might reflect on him and his wife. Producer Arthur Hornblow, however, accused Frings with theft of the script and threatened to have him deported and the lawsuit was not pursued.
Paramount proceeded to consult with the MPPA on the script for Hold Back the Dawn. The MPPA's overall estimation by January 1941 was that "the present version contains certain elements which seem to be unacceptable by reason of sex suggestiveness.... [I]t will not be acceptable to characterize your sympathetic lead as an immoral man, or to definitely indicate a sex affair between him and Tamara [the character who became "Anita" in the film]." In another letter, Breen told Paramount that "there must, of course, be no suggestion of a connecting door between their [Anita and George's] hotel rooms, as this would inevitably give the unacceptable flavor." Paramount got around this by carefully playing the scenes in the hotel room in a manner that Breen found acceptable.
According to contemporary and modern sources, the Mexican government was dissatisfied with the representation of their country and people in the screenplay and, through the State Department, requested various improvements. For example, as a result of their suggestions, Paramount recast the part of "Lupita," a comedy role, which was originally to be played by Jill Dennett, with Eva Puig, the widow of a former Mexican Secretary of State, so that an American was not parodying a Mexican.
Modern sources indicate that further trouble occurred when actor Charles Boyer refused to perform a scene in which his character, dejected by being trapped in Mexico with no prospects of immigration, holds a one-way conversation with a cockroach in his hotel room. The scene was thrown out and because of further troubles with the screenplay, Brackett and Wilder diminished Boyer's role and strengthened de Havilland's, and chose to alter their screen credits from "Screenplay by" to "Written by" because they felt the screenplay was incomplete. Modern sources state that because of this incident, Wilder resolved to direct the films he wrote.
A news item and Paramount publicity information reveals that director Mitchell Leisen joined the Screen Actors Guild so that he could play the part of the director of I Wanted Wings in the sequence which was reshot specifically for inclusion in the Paramount lot sequence of Hold Back the Dawn. Leisen, who did direct I Wanted Wings (see below), donated his bit player wages to charity. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Leisen had initially intended to reshoot a scene with William Holden and Veronica Lake, both stars of I Wanted Wings; however, the scene was instead filmed with Lake, Brian Donlevy and Richard Webb.
Information in the Paramount Collection indicates that the Latin American release of the film included credits on the screen for assistant director Francisco Alonso and technical advisors Ernesto Romero (a former Mexican diplomatic attaché) and Padre Canseco. Olivia de Havilland was loaned by Warner Bros. for this film. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item and information in the Paramount Collection, French actress Germaine Aussey tested for the role that Paulette Goddard ultimately played. This film marks the American film debuts of French actors Victor Francen, Micheline Cheirel and Madeleine LeBeau.
The following information is from Paramount Production Information at the AMPAS Library: The beach scene was filmed on location at Hueneme Beach in Oxnard, and the chase scene was filmed on a highway outside of San Clemente, CA. The band playing "La Marseillaise" was comprised of Hollywood American Legion musicians.
This picture was nominated for Academy Awards in the following categories: Best Picture; Actress (Olivia de Havilland); Best Writing (Screenplay), Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder; Cinematography (Black and White), Leo Tover; Music (Scoring of a Dramatic Picture), Victor Young; and Art Direction/Interior Decoration (Black and White), Hans Dreier and Robert Usher; Sam Comer. De Havilland's sister, actress Joan Fontaine, won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Suspicion (see below). Charles Boyer and Paulette Goddard reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on November 10, 1941.
Released in United States 1941
Veronica Lake has a guest appearance in the film.
Released in United States 1941