Despite having directed Showboat (1936), James Whale never became known for his musicals. By Candlelight was another unaccountably lost opportunity for the director to make his reputation in that area -- with a wall-to-wall score, performances that seem to cry out for songs production numbers, and pacing that recalls Rouben Mamoulian's Love Me Tonight, the movie is only inches from operetta territory, and Paul Lukas even comes across in the lead role a bit like a young Chevalier. Elissa Landi is also very funny as his would-be love interest, and Nils Asther makes a convincingly decadent nobleman/employer. Whale is obviously having as much fun as the audience in telling this story of mixed-up identities, and handles the French farce elements with effortless aplomb. The comedy, romance, and music (by W. Franke Harling), along with some fairly racy pre-Production Code double entendre and a denouement as brisk, exciting, and funny as any of its era help to make By Candlelight a choice re-discovery.
by Bruce Eder review