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Laramie Movie Scope:
Peter Ibbetson

The truest things are the strangest things

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(1935, b/w, English and French) On a country estate outside Paris in the mid-19th century, eight-year-old Pierre "Gogo" Pasquier (Dickie Moore) complains to his invalid, widowed mother of the little girl next door Mimsey Dorian (Virginia Weidler), who wants to build a dollhouse of the boards with which he intended to construct a wagon. At the same time, Mimsey tells her mother: "I'll go out, but I'll never make up with him. I never want to see him again, forever and ever and ever. He's nasty. He's selfish."

Suddenly Mrs Pasquier dies. Mrs Dorian (Doris Lloyd) looks after the strange, sensitive boy until his English uncle, Colonel Forsythe (Douglass Dumbrille), can come for him. In the interval before the colonel's arrival, the two children have become very fond of each other's company.

"The desperate love between children," observes Col Forsythe: "Is there anything in the world forgotten so soon?" Mrs Dorian politely disagrees: "I would say, Colonel, it was forgotten the very last thing of all."

Col Forsythe recommends that Gogo (a nickname Mimsey had given him) choose an English sounding forename, Peter rather than Pierre, and surname, either Forsythe or his mother's maiden name Ibbetson.

A few decades later in London, employed by Throckmorton and Slade Architects, Peter Ibbetson prefers keeping to himself rather than spending his time enjoying barmaids and bitters. Dissatisfied with his life, he tells Mr Slade (Donald Meeks) he's leaving for America; but his employer tries to convince his most promising young architect to remain with the firm by saying that what's wrong isn't some place but somewhere inside.

Then after describing his visions, Mr Slade remarks to Peter's astonishment: "Yes, Peter, I was born blind, but I've seen things just the same…. You don't see just with your eyes. It's inside of you some place. Some of 'em said it was dreams. But I say it's because I had to see that way."

Instead of America, Peter takes a holiday to Paris, promising to return, where he meets an English girl Agnes (Ida Lupino) at an art gallery; he also recognized old Major Duquesnois from his childhood, which gives him the idea of revisiting his former home, taking Agnes with him, though he ignores her, lost in his reveries.

Back in England, Peter's assigned a lengthy project in Yorkshire for the Duke and Duchess of Towers, who want an additional wing for their stables. When the Duchess (Ann Harding) tells him what she expects, Peter replies: "Well, I can't do it." "Why not?" replies the Duchess. "Because I don't like it," he answers. "Oh, and just what has that got to do with it?" questions his employer. "Because I can't do anything I don't like," retorts the impertinent gentleman: "And it I were a horse, I wouldn't even live in it."

Nevertheless, work on the stables commences and proceeds to completion, constructed Peter's way. Peter and the Duchess discuss a shared dream: "But how - how is it we could both be there and how could we both know about it?" The Duchess behaves indifferently, without further curiosity: "Mr Ibbetson, we're not mystics. I suggest that we both forget about it."

At the dinner table, the Duke (John Halliday), who is much older than his young wife, after asking how long the architect has been a guest (just two months), flings out: "And how long have you been in love with my wife, Mr Ibbetson?" Though they've never so much as touched fingers, let alone shared a kiss, Peter admits having had the Duchess in his thoughts continuously but directs his speech to her: "A little girl in a garden. We were torn apart. All women have faded before her face until I saw yours, and now I'm rid of her. I look at you and don't see her. I see you."

The Duke demands of his wife assurance that she'll never see Mr Ibbetson again, expecting her to behave accordingly as a Duchess. Entering her bedroom abruptly, Peter exhorts Mary, lying on her bed weeping, to come away with him: "You got married. I didn't." She hesitates, saying of her husband: "He's been kind."

The Duke, holding a pistol, confronts the couple. Mary confesses: "We've loved each other all our lives." The Duke commands, "Get into your lover's arms," and fires at the same instant that Peter hurls a chair.

"The strangest things are true, and the truest things are strange," in director Henry Hathaway's fantasy of dramatic romance, an adaptation of George du Maurier's novel and John Nathaniel Raphael's play by screenwriters Vincent Lawrence and Waldemar Young, with various other contributors.

In prison on the English moors, sentence to life for murder in the dungeon, Peter suffers a broken spine during an altercation with other inmates taunting him. Mary comes to him, dying of his injury - "Can't last long," says a doctor - in what he thinks is a dream, "As if you were really here." She replies: "We're dreaming together again…. I am here. Oh, you must believe that, Peter, it's our only chance. Don't ask why, just - just believe. Perhaps it's because our love is so deep."

Desperate to convince Peter before her presence fades from his eyes, she tries to convince him by promising to deliver a ring from her finger to him in the morning as proof if he will only struggle to stay alive.

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Copyright © 2014 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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