The Last Time I Saw Paris is based on the 1931 F. Scott Fitzgerald short story “Babylon Revisited,” which I vaguely remember reading in high school. The story is semi-autobiographical, based on Fitzgerald’s own experience living in Paris, and his relationship with his wife Zelda and their daughter “Scottie,” Zelda’s sister and her husband. The movie transplants the story from Paris during the Great Depression to Paris just after the end of World War II.
Unfortunately, that is not the only thing that is changed for movie. Moving the story out of the ‘30s removed the whole Lost Generation feel that pervades the story. The father of the writer’s wife, Mr. Ellswirth (Walter Pidgeon), has been hanging around Paris since the ‘30s, living a grand lifestyle of a benevolent man of society despite being flat broke. But this character, like too much in this film, is played for laughs. Although the characters the Fitzgerald story are only based on the writer and his in laws, and this is not meant to be a Fitzgerald biopic, Van Johnson’s screen persona is far too light to play anyone even remotely based on Fitzgerald, and he is not very convincing as a drunk, struggling novelist. In fact, there is a light tone in the music, pacing, Technicolor and production design that seems completely at odds with the tragic nature of the story. Although there are some good performances, especially from Donna Reed and Elizabeth Taylor, they get lost in the generally misguided direction of the film.