Woody Allen continues his trip around the world with “Midnight in Paris,” the movie that — amazingly — turned out to be his biggest moneymaker ever. It’s a fun trifle, with some amusing performances and a warm recreation of the 1920s, but one of Woody’s best? Hardly.

Woody Allen continues his trip around the world with “Midnight in Paris,” the movie that — amazingly — turned out to be his biggest moneymaker ever. It’s a fun trifle, with some amusing performances and a warm recreation of the 1920s, but one of Woody’s best? Hardly.

Owen Wilson plays Gil, a successful screenwriter who yearns to be a serious novelist. (In other words, he’s the Woody Allen character.) Vacationing in Paris with his shrewish wife (Rachel McAdams) and her disapproving parents, he falls in love with the city — and falls in hate with the idea of returning to his old life in Malibu.

Then, one night during a solitary walk, a vintage roadster pulls up beside him. And whom should be offering him a ride but F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda?

“Midnight in Paris” really takes off when Gil magically travels to the 1920s city of his dreams. He drinks with Ernest Hemingway, discusses art with Salvador Dali and has his novel edited by Gertrude Stein. When he falls in love with Adrianna (Marion Cotillard), a former mistress of Picasso, he’s sure he wants to leave the 21st century behind.

And that’s the trouble with “Midnight in Paris” — there’s no tension. None. Given Gil’s situation, anyone would leave his hollow, modern life (and insufferable fiancee) and flee to the glamour of 1920s Paris. What’s more, everyone in the past is so darned friendly and accommodating. I’m guessing the real Hemingway, Dali and Fitzgeralds were a lot harder to get along with. Especially that Zelda. She was nuts!

Allen does add an intriguing wrinkle to the plot when Adrianna reveals she wishes she lived in the “Belle Epoque” of turn-of-the-century Paris. Soon she and Gil are visiting the gaslight era and rubbing elbows with Degas and Gauguin. The idea that one man’s golden age is another woman’s boring present is tantalizing, but the movie doesn’t do much with it. But worst of all, “Midnight in Paris” doesn’t so much end as it stops, with a final scene that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t go anywhere.

Don’t get me wrong — “Midnight in Paris” is a lot of fun and well worth watching. I just don’t think I’ll be returning to it anytime soon.

Speaking of Paris ...

The great Billy Wilder — no slouch himself when it came to filmmaking, with “The Apartment,” “Sunset Blvd.” and plenty of other classics on his resume — stood in awe of his mentor, director Ernst Lubitsch. Born and raised in Germany (just like Wilder), Lubitsch came to Hollywood in 1922 and become so identified with sophisticated, elegant comedies of manners that his films were said to have “The Lubitsch Touch.”

Though largely (and unfairly) forgotten today, Lubitsch was nominated for three Best Director Oscars and won an Honorary Academy Award in 1947 for his contributions to cinema. If you’d like to experience “The Lubitsch Touch” for yourself, you can’t do much better than 1933’s “Design for Living,” which has just been released on DVD and Blu-ray by Criterion.

“Design for Living” focuses on what must be the most amiable love triangle of all time: Struggling artist Gary Cooper and struggling playwright Fredric March both fall in love with Miriam Hopkins during a train ride into Paris. Once in the city, they agree to remain friends — though when Cooper is away, March and Hopkins fall in love, and vice versa. It’s all very light and sophisticated in a way you just don’t see anymore — and didn’t see much then, either. All three leads are amazingly appealing, and Lubitsch keeps things moving briskly. It’s not a deep film by any means, but it’s a smart,
entertaining one — and that’s no small thing, no matter what year it is.

The Criterion DVD and Blu-ray have plenty of extras, including a commentary track, a short film by Lubitsch and a 1964 TV version of the original play.  

Contact Will Pfeifer at wpfeifer@rrstar.com or 815-987-1244. Read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/willpfeifer/