Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 15, 2023)
Does it count as ironic that I screened 1954’s The Last Time I Saw Paris exactly a year to the day after I visited the French capital? Yeah, but at least this information offers a cheap and easy intro to my review of the film.
Taken from an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, US Army journalist Charles Wills (Van Johnson) covers the celebrations in Paris that greet the end of World War II. Out of nowhere, a beautiful woman kisses him but promptly disappears.
Charles does meet Marion Ellswirth (Donna Reed) and she invites him to a party at her father James’ (Walter Pidgeon) home. There he learns the mystery woman was Marion’s younger sister Helen (Elizabeth Taylor), and this ignites a romantic triangle among Charles and the two siblings.
Given that synopsis, one might expect Paris to offer a weepy melodrama. Does this assumption prove correct?
Pretty much. Unfortunately, it lacks substance and rarely makes a lick of sense.
38 at the time, Johnson looks closer to 50, and he seems like a perplexing match for then-22-year-old Taylor. Perhaps if Johnson appeared more dashing, we might buy this, but he seems dumpy and plain.
Does the film ever explain why Helen falls for Charles? Not in the least.
Indeed, Paris tends to paint Helen as a bit of a gold-digger, someone out for a life filled with riches. Though James maintains the air of wealth, we find he lacks more than basic funds, and this appears to motivate Helen to pursue a path toward millions.
So why does Helen latch onto Charles, a journalist for the US Army? In what way does he seem like a route toward a cushy life?
He doesn’t, and Paris doesn’t compensate with other reasons to make Helen smitten with Charles. He doesn’t appear to offer a practical option, and although the film theoretically matches the pair as Helen’s attempt to spite her sister, this never develops.
Indeed, my synopsis probably oversells the potential love triangle. This acts as a minor theme in the first act but then it dissipates, and we barely see Marion the rest of the way.
In another avenue left unexplored, Paris flirts with a portrait of Helen as a free spirit whose hedonistic ways frustrate Charles. However, like the aforementioned love triangle, this theme also goes nowhere.
Indeed, Helen seems shockingly loyal to the whiny, petulant Charles. While we should bond with him, Charles comes across as such a jerk that we never connect to him.
It also seems illogical that Charles would toy with affairs. Who in their right mind cheats on Elizabeth Taylor?
Okay, I know that men will conduct affairs even when paired with beautiful partners. After all, Hugh Grant went astray from Elizabeth Hurley, and women get no hotter than her.
Nonetheless, Paris fails to explore this notion, which seems par for the course. The movie leaves none of its themes or characters well-developed, so I shouldn’t expect any of its subdomains to work.
I do like Pidgeon’s amusing performance as the louche James, and a relatively young Roger Moore in a relatively early role.
Otherwise I find little to offer from this turgid melodrama. Paris runs too long for its thin story and tiresome characters.