Mis-titled in the Book as Peter Ibbertson (with an r), Henry Hathaway’s romantic drama aspires to be the biggest, widest, most saccharine romantic drama this side of the Hays Code. Sure, there were a ton of romantic dramas in the 1930s, but Peter Ibbetson aims to outdo them all; a true tale of love that outlasts all time and overcomes all obstacles, and all in less than an hour and a half. Does it succeed? In ways, yes, but with its success comes a distinct sense that the film has overreached its bounds. If you need any convincing that a romantic drama can actually go too far, watch Peter Ibbetson. Your doubts will fall by the wayside.
Gary Cooper stars as the titular fellow, and we start on him in childhood, where his name is Gogo, and where he lives in Paris next door to a girl named Mimsey who is his frequent playmate, even with their constant arguing. Already, I bet you can tell where this is going. Gogo’s mother passes away, and he is taken in by his uncle in London, given the name Peter Ibbetson, and the two are separated. Cut to Peter grown up, and he is sent as part of his job to the estate of the Duke and Duchess of Towers, and I’ll give you three guesses as to who the Duchess turns out to be. Extra hint: if you needed all three guesses, please kindly go and slap yourself. I’ve seen some romance films before, but holy crap, was this one overblown. I don’t know if I would call it melodrama, though I wouldn’t be wrong to do so; the film was just so overtly romantic about itself. There was a scene halfway through the film, where the main couple are reassuring each other that their love is true and will last for all eternity and blah blah, etc etc, and for a second I thought I was going to have to stop the film for a moment to take a breather. The film doesn’t let up with this aspect all through the end of the film, as even when they are separated, Peter and his love find that they share the same conscious space when they dream, which seems a little sci-fi, but it is played straight towards the “romantic destiny” angle. The film also seemed a little too rushed, in my opinion. The story just kept jumping forward, missing all the development that comes with most other films of this kind. For instance, there was far too little interaction between Peter and Mary when the stables are being built before the Duke literally drops the plot development of their loving each other onto us out of the blue, and at that point, everything that needs to happen for the plot to move forward just up and happens, without any of it having been built up over the course of the film up to that point. it was this, coupled with all the melodrama, that made this seem a little overbearing, and certainly not an excellently made production. I will say, though, as a counterpoint; the cinematography was very nice, very dreamlike, especially when the dream sequences began near the end of the film.
Aside from the use of the dream sequences at the end and the overwhelming melodrama, there really wasn’t anything to this one at all. The story was the most basic it could possibly be, and seemed to rely solely on the romantic angle to carry the weight of the film, and it largely does, but as a result, it is just constantly in your face the entire time, until finally you just want the film to step back a pace or two and give you some breathing room. Now, I can understand what the film wanted to accomplish, and to its credit, it does a good job; the result is just way too overpowering for my tastes, and what I expect to be the tastes of just about any average moviegoer in today’s modern age. Frankly, I’m not even sure why this made the list; the dream sequences at the end are lovely enough, but nothing as groundbreaking as the Book makes it out to be. Well, maybe it was groundbreaking for 1935, but to that end, it just means the film hasn’t aged as well as it thinks it has.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10