The Last Time I Saw Paris is so phoney it hurts. In its return to the Continent from campaigns on the Italian peninsula Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has settled on a rework of the stock script about war-weary American youth in Europe. Ostensibly patterned after a Scott Fitzgerald novel, it somehow misplaces World War I and ends up occurring in 1945. Otherwise, it is Hollywood's latest testimonial to its own mixed up conception of gay, reckless Paris.
Director Richard Brooks has played every scene at such a high plateau of emotions that the major ones can hardly be distinguished from the minor. Van Johnson, well-known for his engaging smile, is admirably miscast as a struggling writer. All he can do is screw up his face a little more as each scene reaches new heights of emotional seriousness. By the grand climactic scene, when he goes to his dead wife's sister to plead for the return of his baby girl, the grimace has reached Hallowe'en proportions. "I gotta have 'er back," he pleads, "because she looks like Helen." Since Helen is played by Elizabeth Taylor, the suggestion is somewhat ludicrous.
Long before this point, any hope for emotional relief is lost. Red-haired Johnson spends most of the film struggling through amorous scenes with Miss Taylor, and the rest struggling with a script that is beyond him. He reaches the limits of credulity when he makes love to Miss Taylor by growling, "Why don't you come over and find out?" She parts her lips, and comes over. Johnson kisses her but just cannot pull it off convincingly.
What relief there is in the film is supplied by Walter Pidgeon, who manages to rise above another job of miscasting in the role of Miss Taylor's carefree, high-living father. Nor is the film all bad, for Miss Taylor is very attractive; she says little and wears new dress creations. But beyond that the film has little to offer in the way of accomplishments, except that it collects into one movie enough stock situations--writer accidentally kills wife, writer fights for daughter--to make three movies.
Director Brooks apparently thought the best way to simplify the movie would be to divide it into four equal parts. He merges sections dominated by Parisian scenes, Johnson gazing at Taylor, wild parties, and family conflict over the baby. The confusing result has been to leave the impression that The Last Time I Saw Paris is not much more than pointless meandering between a fake left bank bistro and a cardboard Arc de Triomphe.