Wednesday, February 21, 2024

By Candlelight (1933)

Paul Lukas stars as Josef, a butler employed to Prince Alfred, portrayed by the dashing Nils Asther. Josef loves working for the prince because he not only admires him but wishes to emulate him... especially when it comes to the prince's wooing technique, for the prince has a reputation of being a "great lover". 

One of his favorite methods of enchanting women is by candlelight. This method involves Josef turning off the electricity in the apartment while the prince is entertaining his latest lady love. In her surprise state, the prince steals a kiss, at which point Josef enters with candles in hand and declares, "It is a power outage, milord." A simple trick, but one that the prince enjoys.

Sometimes the prince's romances are interrupted by his lover's husbands. After his latest encounter with an irate husband, Josef suggests that the villa in Monte Carlo be opened to provide the prince with a change of scenery. "A capital idea!" the prince declares. 

Josef then takes the train a day ahead of the prince to make preparations and, onboard, meets a young woman named Marie (Elissa Landi) in the dining car. He sees this as a marvelous opportunity to apply the mannerisms and phrases he learned from the prince for impressing women. Unfortunately, his play acting the prince goes a bit too far and Marie believes that Josef really is a prince, a charade he then tries to keep up in Monte Carlo. When the real prince arrives, he amusingly takes on the role of the butler!

By Candlelight, released in 1933, is an entertaining and surprisingly fast-moving romantic comedy from Universal Studios. Paul Lukas was ideally cast as the butler Josef and is charming in the role. However, it was hard for him to hold his own in any scene with Nils Asther. That Swedish actor had a mesmerizing way of stealing the spotlight. Asther played a debonair and quite convincing cad of a prince.

Since By Candlelight was filmed before the Hays Code was strictly enforced, the dialogue and visual situations are much more straight-forward then the subtle hinting techniques employed in the late 1930s sex comedies. Prince Alfred pinches women and openly flirts with married socialites while Josef proudly looks on. 

Director James Whale did a wonderful job of keeping the film amusing and not letting it get stage-bound, something that could have easily been done since it originated as an Austrian stage play. P.G. Wodehouse (the Jeeves and Wooster author) adapted "Candle Light" by Siegfried Geyer and Karl Farkas into an English play which, in turn, was purchased by Universal Pictures for filming. 

While James Whale is best known for directing horror films (The Invisible Man, Frankenstein, etc) he had the right touch for comedies and could have made a name for himself in that genre had he pursued it. He later filmed an equally amusing - and forgotten - comedy called Remember the Night? (1935).

Fortunately, By Candlelight is not so rare as to be unreleased and is available both on regular DVD and on Blu-Ray. 


  1. I just could not take this at face value as a romantic comedy, as Lukas was just too creepy and repellant, and Whale's direction, lighting, etc, gave everything an ominous horror-like tone. It made for a really odd viewing experience, with all the mechanics of a rom-com, but none of the charm and likability.

    1. You're not alone in that opinion, I've read quite a number of reviewers who have mentioned the same feeling. But I did not see this when I was watching it....Paul Lukas just seemed to be an overly eager hopeless failure in dating. Perhaps if Bob Hope played the role ten years later it would have been more comical and believable.

    2. I was joking during the film that Bela Lugosi would have been a riot, as Lukas reminded me quite a bit of his fellow Hungarian.

    3. Yes! Bela should definitely have made more comedies.