The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)
The Last Time I Saw Paris is a 1954 American romantic drama film directed by Richard Brooks and starring Elizabeth Taylor, Van Johnson, and Donna Reed. The screenplay by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Babylon Revisited”. The film won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography (color) and was nominated for Best Art Direction (color). It was the last film in which Taylor and Reed worked together.
While covering the post-war celebrations in Paris, World War II correspondent for Stars and Stripes, Charles Wills (Van Johnson), is grabbed by a lovely woman who kisses him and then vanishes. He follows the throng to Café Dhingo and meets Marion Ellswirth (Donna Reed), another lovely woman. Their instant mutual attraction is noted when she invites him to participate in her father’s celebration of the end of World War II in Europe. When they arrive at the Ellswirth residence, they find that the woman who had kissed Charles is Helen Ellswirth (Elizabeth Taylor), Marion’s younger sister. Claude Matine (Jean-Pierre Aumont), Marion’s persistent French suitor, accompanies them.
James Ellswirth (Walter Pidgeon), their father, survived World War I and raised his two daughters to want the same drifter lifestyle that he now had. Helen, who is heir to her father’s traits, uses her beauty to sustain a life of elegance and luxury, even though they are flat broke. Marion, on the other hand, seeks serious and conventional men like Claude, a future prosecutor, and Charles, a novelist in the making, who is seeking a girlfriend.
Charles chooses to date Helen instead of Marion. Charles and Helen fall in love and following her near-death bout with pneumonia they get married and settle in Paris. James joins them happily, and Helen eventually has a baby girl, Vickie. After Charles left Marion for Helen, Claude reunited with Marion and marries her. Charles struggles to make ends meet with his meager salary and has trouble writing his novels while looking after Vickie.
Charles continues to have all his novels turned down by publishers, however James’ oil wells in Texas finally began producing oil around this time. Since Charles had received the oil as part of his dowry, he quits his position as a newspaper reporter. Charles parties away his cash and Helen and James quit attending parties to begin throwing them instead. Helen became more responsible after gaining sudden wealth, but begins to flirt with attractive tennis player Paul Lane (Roger Moore) and Charles begins competing in a Monte Carlo-to-Paris road race with divorced Lorraine Quarl.
After the competition, Charles returns to Paris, only to discover Helen sitting at Café Dhingo with Paul. An angry Charles goes home, chains the door, and drinks to the point of being disoriented, making it so that the door can only partially open. Helen gets home and cannot get in. She cries for help, but Charles is passed out on the stairs and drops the bottle as she cries. Helen is forced to walk to her sister’s house in the snow and rain as a result. She catches pneumonia again and dies as a consequence.
Marion petitions the court for and wins full custody of Vickie, and Charles returns to America. Several years later, having written a book and quit drinking, Charles returns to Paris in an attempt to convince Marion that he has reformed. The only drink he has per day, he tells her, is one. Marion refuses to hand over Vickie to Charles because she still dislikes him for having fallen in love with Helen rather than herself and for causing Helen’s death. Claude explains to her that Charles and Vickie belong together, and that she is punishing Charles for not recognizing that Marion loved him by marring Helen instead.
As Claude and Vickie wait outside, Marion enters Café Dhingo (where a large photo of Helen is on the wall) in order to find Charles (who is looking at the portrait). When Marion finds Charles, she tells him that Helen would not have wanted him to be alone. The two of them make their way outside and when young Vickie sees Charles, she runs to him and the two of them walk away together.
Directed by Richard Brooks
Screenplay by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Richard Brooks
Based on “Babylon Revisited” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Produced by Jack Cummings
Restored and upscaled by moonflix, LLC
Elizabeth Taylor as Helen Ellswirth
Van Johnson as Charles Wills
Walter Pidgeon as James Ellswirth
Donna Reed as Marion Ellswirth
Eva Gabor as Lorraine Quarl
Kurt Kasznar as Maurice
George Dolenz as Claude Matine
Roger Moore as Paul
Sandy Descher as Vicki
Celia Lovsky as Mama
Peter Leeds as Barney
Dave Seville as Charlie
John Doucette as Campbell
Odette Myrtil as Singer
Beatrice Miller as Grace (uncredited)
Matt Moore as Englishman (uncredited)
Original release date:
November 18, 1954