IDIOT'S DELIGHT

Produced and Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Released: January 27, 1939

Featured cast: Norma Shearer, Clark Gable, Edward Arnold, Burgess Meredith

Producer: Hunt Stromberg  
Director: Clarence Brown
Screenwriter: Robert Sherwood
Source: the 1936 Robert Sherwood play
Cinematographer: William Daniels

THEME

As war breaks out in Europe, a troupe of dancers seeks neutral ground in a luxurious ski resort.

PRODUCTION QUOTE

“Norma Shearer has been transformed. On the set last week she stood garbed in black from tip to toe—a black, Russian-like suit and coat, a black scarf around her head, a black pillbox hat perched above, at a rakish variance with the cassock effect of the rest. When she spoke—except that her pitch was higher—she sounded for all the world like an actress on the same lot named Garbo.”
- Philip Scheuer, “A Town Called Hollywood,” Los Angeles Times, November 27, 1938

REVIEWS

"Miss Shearer may well win recognition for the phoneyness of her gaudy Russian aristocrat, a strange contrast to the simple human vaudevillian that she impersonates earlier in the story. She makes much of the possibilities for creation of two almost utterly different characters. And it’s quite a stunt in versatility. Her costumes are outlandish almost to the point of burlesque. Scenes between her and Gable may be given the palm as remarkably clever, and she has some words to say of war that are very effective.”
- Edwin Schallert, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 1939

“Discounting the picture's more obviously amusing features—Norma Shearer as a phony Russian refugee in a slinky gown, balancing a long cigarette holder; Clark Gable as a song-and-dance man in a striped suit (wait till you see those dance routines!)—the grown-ups may revel in its Jovian humors, its accuracy of continental detail and characterization, combined with fastidious philosophical detachment. . . . We are ready to suppose that the present American ending, on what can only be described as a note of defiant hooferism, with Gable pounding on the piano and Miss Shearer ecstatically ‘trucking’ as the walls collapse, was the best that was cinematically available. (There is a different ending for Great Britain, with sentimental songs). Even that effect of the conventional movie fadeout, as the bombers recede, we can accept. Yet it is a trivial, faintly detestable world we have seen (despite the careful cinematic prologue of Miss Shearer as a young girl daydreamer, and Gable as a World War veteran), and though the end, violent or otherwise, seems epically unimportant, there remains a feeling that the really significant thing was the final psychological disintegration of these two characters. Regardless of what happened to the world, it seems more appropriate that they should end, in the words of T. S. Eliot, ‘not with a bang, but with a whimper.’ Did we say that Idiot's Delight makes a swell movie? If you don't see it, you'll be missing one of the year's events.”
- Frank S. Nugent, The New York Times, February 3, 1939

"Clark Gable's hard-boiled hoofer is a fine charac­terization. Norma Shearer plays a difficult and pur­posely exaggerated role to the hilt and perhaps a little farther. With an extra credit for its worthy intention, Idiot's Delight is refreshingly intelligent entertain­ment."
- Newsweek Magazine, February 6, 1939

LETTERS FROM REGIONAL THEATER OWNERS

“Well, it may have been somebody’s delight, but it was not a delight for my patrons. Norma Shearer does some superb acting, but it is so different from the usual role she plays so charmingly that people were disappointed.”
- Gladys E. McArdle, Owl Theatre, Lebanon, Kansas, Motion Picture Herald, May 6, 1939

“What an appropriate title, if you know what I mean, and if you played it, you know what I mean. Couldn’t even get them in on Bank Night. Why does Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cast stars like this in pictures with non-salable titles? Glad it’s over."
- E.A. Moore, State Theatre, Clarence, Iowa, Motion Picture Herald, May 13, 1939

“I feel like passing up reviewing this one. Certainly it has been cussed sufficiently in this department. Personally I did not think it was too bad, but nearly all the reports we received from patrons rated it the poorest show ever seen or some such thing. One intelligent elderly lady was very enthusiastic in its praise.”
- Dr. G.A. Van Fradenburg, Valley Theatre, Manassa, Colorado, Motion Picture Herald, June 24, 1939

FIGURES

Idiot’s Delight cost $1,519,000 and grossed $1,712,000.

(These figures have not been adjusted for inflation nor do they include profits from reissues, television syndication, and home entertainment formats.)

Scenes

A Behind the Scenes Still

Portraits