Constance Talmadge is a lovely American heiress who travels to England disguised as a frump in order to ward off fortune-hunting men. Ronald Colman is a penniless aristocrat who falls for Constance and impersonates a physician to get a closer look. Chaos ensues. Of course. It’s a romantic comedy!
So this guy pretended to be my doctor, sold me his house and then got hammered and stumbled back in the dead of night. Should I marry him?
Of all the actors who benefited from the coming of sound, Ronald Colman was probably the most richly rewarded. He had been popular in the silents and had played opposite some of the biggest female stars of the era. Handsome and charming though he was, however, his greatest asset was hidden: That wonderful voice! I am, obviously, a pretty big silent movie fan but I have to admit that watching a voiceless Ronald Colman is bit like taking a shower with a raincoat on.
Her Night of Romance was the first of two teamings of Colman and Constance Talmadge, youngest of the Talmadge sisters. While Norma Talmadge specialized in tragedy, Constance was a little clown who specialized in zany comedies. (Middle sister Natalie’s career never really took off and she is best remembered for her tumultuous marriage to Buster Keaton.) Colman would also star in a film opposite Norma entitled Kiki.
The Talmadge sisters were extremely popular stars but have not received the same amount of press as other silent performers. I’ve already reviewed a few Norma Talmadge vehicles, now it is time to give Constance some attention.
American millionaire Samuel Adams (Albert Gran) arrives in England by ship accompanied by his daughter, Dorothy (Constance Talmadge). Dorothy has donned an extraordinary disguise: thick horn-rimmed glasses, goofy hat and a shapeless clothing. What’s the idea? It seems that Dorothy is afraid of being targeted by fortune-hunters so she plans to make herself look as unattractive as possible.
Meanwhile, Paul Menford (Ronald Colman) shows up at the dock to meet an actress of whom he is enamored. A penniless aristocrat, Paul has spent the last of his money on flowers for the object of his affection. But then he and Dorothy Meet Cute (fall down together in this case) and he catches a glimpse of her sans frumpy disguise. The actress is forgotten and Paul is smitten. Dorothy isn’t exactly uninterested either.
Paul is in dire straits and is trying to get a bit of money out of Joe Diamond (Jean Hersholt), his financial representative. Joe suggests that Paul marry Dorothy, he can arrange it all (for a 10% fee, of course).
Meanwhile, it turns out that Adams and Dorothy are in England to see a famous doctor. Dorothy has a vaguely defined heart condition and Adams has pinned his hopes on this new physician.
The doctor in question just happens to be a relative of Paul’s and Paul is at his house fetching a suitcase for him when a messenger from Adams arrives. Seeing a man with a black bag exiting the doctor’s residence, the messenger assumes that Paul is the man himself and begs him to come to examine Dorothy. Paul goes along with this bit of mistaken identity rather cheerfully.
Dorothy immediately responds to treatment from her handsome new doctor but Paul does not want to continue with the deception. He writes her a Dear Dorothy letter and departs. That’s not the end of things, though. You see, Joe has sold Paul’s estate to Dorothy, who still has no idea who her “doctor” really was. She rushes off to her new house to mend her broken heart. The very same night, a very drunk Paul gets dropped off at his old house and stumbles into his old bedroom. Before you can say “memorize your new address, man!” Paul has accidentally spent the night and is claiming that Dorothy is his wife in order to protect her reputation.
Will Dorothy get the man of her dreams? Will Paul clean up his mess? Will Joe get his 10%? All is revealed in Her Night of Romance!
This film has a very promising start with a cute meeting between the leads and some romantic tension already simmering. The problem with it (as I am sure you have already seen) is the film’s over-reliance on coincidence and contrived set-ups.
Plausible: Penniless nobleman is mistaken for his relative, a doctor, and finds himself tending to a beautiful heiress.
Huh?: Penniless nobleman meets a beautiful heiress, thinks he might want to marry her and she just happens to be in the country to see a doctor who happens to be his relative. The doctor happens to be summoned just when the nobleman happens to be fetching his suitcase.
The film also uses the tired cliche of a couple pretending to be married in order to protect reputations. Seriously, who does this? After Paul spends the night at his old house, all he has to do is leave quietly and nothing bad will happen. But no, he has to linger and let everyone and their brother-in-law see him. And after that, all he has to do is pretend that he is picking up a few doodads from his old house and nothing bad will happen. But no, he has the pretend to be married Dorothy. How did he think this would turn out?
That’s the other problem with the film: Paul is a creep. I want to emphasize that this is absolutely not Ronald Colman’s fault. He battles valiantly and it is a testament to his charm that Paul remains as likable as he is. But the poor writing catches up with the film.
One might argue that Paul’s actions are no different than the average romantic comedy hero. That is true to a certain extent. What makes the character come off as caddish is that there is no narrative logic behind Paul’s behavior.
For example, Paul is mistaken for a doctor and he goes along with the assumption. However, in the previous scene it was established that Paul’s intention was matrimony and he was promised an introduction by Joe, who was arranging the sale of Paul’s house to Dorothy. So Paul gets to meet Dorothy a few days early and with a false identity he knows he will have to explain later? It’s not like he was never going to see Dorothy again! Paul’s deception gained him exactly nothing and he should have known it.
Worse, Paul later feels bad about his impersonation but the audience is not shown him struggling to decide whether to come clean or not. One scene he is chasing Dorothy around the parlor and in the next he sends her a letter confessing that he is a fraud. What was the catalyst for this? We don’t know because the movie did not show us.
Constance Talmadge is cute, though she does have a habit of mugging, particularly in scenes where her character is stressed. Talmadge’s great gift is for physical comedy and some scenes are uproarious. For the most part, though, she is also a victim of the poor script. Her character is meant to be madly in love with Paul, so madly in love that she overlooks his less-than-savory behavior. However, there is no ctalyst for Dorothy either. One minute she is sobbing because Paul is rather openly propositioning her and the next she is just nuts for him. What gives?
This is particularly disappointing because individual scenes and gags work very well. The scene where Paul is trying to retreat and a “fainting” Dorothy tries to detain him by grabbing hold of his coat is extremely well played, as are Paul’s drugged and/or drunk scenes, Dorothy’s relationship with her dear old dad and her frumpy scenes… all quite excellent. In fact, this romantic comedy works best when it forgets the Romantic part and sticks to Comedy.
I think I am particularly picky because I just reviewed The Oyster Princess, a Lubitsch-directed comedy that has a very similar set-up and plot. It features a marvelous scenario and the laughs keep piling on until our anarchic pair (an American heiress and a penniless, drunk German prince) are wooed and wedded.
Director Sidney Franklin, a veteran who had graduated from short films, directed many of Constance Talmadge’s starring vehicles. He is best remembered today for directing lavish sound productions like The Good Earth and The Barretts of Wimpole Street. Franklin does a good job with this film and has some playful fun with shadows.
In the end, talent in front and behind the camera are not enough to save this film from a choppy, badly-planned script. A shame since it had the potential to be one of the more sparkling romantic comedies of the silent era.
Movies Silently’s Score:★★
Where can I see it?
Her Night of Romance was released on DVD as a double feature with Talmadge’s other Ronald Colman co-starring comedy, Her Sister from Paris.