Hailed by some (including Luis Buñuel) as an absolute masterpiece, Peter Ibbetson is certainly unique and fascinating, but it is also flawed and at times irritating. Chief among its flaws is a stiff, superficial performance from Gary Cooper. Usually a fine actor, Cooper is miscast here, entirely too American and, worse, too "solid" for a film as ethereal as this. Although he does create some sparks with Ann Harding, this is one of his least involved performances, and the film suffers greatly from this. Harding, however, is marvelous, perfectly capturing the surreal qualities of the film while still remaining steadfastly grounded. The screenplay and direction are both a little of two minds; the reality and the fantasy don't always mesh as well as they should, and occasionally the film feels slightly clunky. But when things click, Ibbetson soars as few other films do, becoming a mystical and poignant flight of fancy that is quite unlike any other film. A great deal of the film's success is due to cinematographer Charles B. Lang and art directors Hans Dreier and Robert Usher, whose work is nearly flawless. Whether or not one holds Ibbetson in as high regard as Buñuel, it's still a lovely, one-of-a-kind movie.
by Craig Butler review