The Last Time I Saw Paris is a romantic drama that tells a good story with fine performances and an overall honesty of dramatic purpose.
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, Babylon Revisited was updated and revised as the basis for the potent screenplay. Elizabeth Taylor’s work as the heroine shows a thorough grasp of the character, which she makes warm and real. Richard Brooks’ direction also gets a sock response from Van Johnson. Fitzgerald’s vision of Paris’s “lost generation” is well captured
Plot is laid in Paris in the reckless, gay period that followed V-E Day of World War II. There, Johnson meets and marries Taylor and starts a struggling existence as a day-time reporter for a news service and would be author at night. Even the faith of his wife cannot balance the brand of failure he assumes after too many rejection slips and when some supposedly worthless Texas oil property suddenly gushes into wealth he becomes a playboy himself.
Charles Wills (Van Johnson) steps out of the train station into the busy streets of Paris. He wanders vaguely with a sad look of melancholy upon his face. All of the places he used to go… He is remembering…
The streets of Paris are filled with a chaotic crowd. The war is over and everyone has come out to celebrate. Charley revels among the crowd and is kissed by a beautiful fleeting woman. He is stunned as he enters the little Cafe Dhingo but is soon distracted by another pretty lady at a table nearby. As he approaches, he finds that Marion Ellswirth (Donna Reed) is sitting with his old friend Claude Matine (George Dolenz). They chat for a few moments and the lady is obviously taken. She invites Charley back to her home where her father, James (Walter Pidgeon) is holding a huge party. When he arrives he is once again shocked to see the beautiful lady from the crowd. Marion introduces her as her sister, Helen (Elizabeth Taylor) and she is obviously jealous at the sparks between the two. Charley politely takes his leave but promises to call Marion the next day for a rendezvous. He does call but Helen takes a message and instead of relaying it, she shows up to tempt him. The two spend time together and fall in love, eventually marrying.
Married life is good for a while but even after their daughter is born, Helen still has not lost her happy go lucky ways. Charley considers moving back to the states but Helen will have none of it. Charley declines an excellent writer position in favor of a job at a local paper so that they may stay in Paris. He begins work on a novel and as it is finished, they are bright and hopeful in regards to a response. It is soon rejected but not discouraged, he begins another. The stress becomes too much and soon starts drinking more than he should. Helen begins to settle down but Charley becomes bolder and reckless. He gets an opportunity to interview a pretty divorcee named Lorraine Quarl (Eva Gabor). She and Charley spend way too much time together and he does not return home until morning. Helen’s faith in him does not degrade as he tells of the attractive woman. However, Helen’s patience is degrading and she longs to move back to the US.
A stroke of luck lands them in cash but after the third novel and the third rejection Charley is feeling very dejected. He now refuses to leave Paris and the exciting crazy lifestyle he has grown used to. His drinking once again increases and his recklessness becomes dangerous. He decides to run in the Grand Prix at Monte Carlo taking Lorraine with him. Rain and a moderate crash bring him home to find Helen with a young pro tennis player (Roger Moore). She is now spending way too much time with him and thinking seriously of an affair. A clash between husband and wife in the cafe ends with Helen walking out on the tennis player’s arm. She goes to his hotel but decided it’s just not what she wants because he is just a gigolo. Unable to find a taxi, she travels across the city on foot through the rain and snow. She arrives to find the door chain locked and Charley passed out on the stairs. She somehow makes it to her sister’s house but it is too late. The chill has already set in and she now has pneumonia. Helen never makes it out of the hospital and only some of the family can forgive Charley. Marion is not one of them and she immediately petitions the courts for custody of Vicki (Sandy Descher), Helen’s daughter. As it is granted, Charley is too wrapped up in his grief to care at first. He goes back to the states to resolve his feelings but eventually returns to Paris in hopes of gaining Vicki back. After the melancholy walk, he goes to Marion and Claude’s apartment to beg for custody. Everyone hangs of the edge of their seat wondering what Marion will say.