Sunday, September 20, 2009

Monte Carlo (Ernst Lubitsch) ***

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Cast: Jeanette MacDonald, Jack Buchanan, Claud Allister, Zasu Pitts, Tyler Brooke

Background: Ernst Lubitsch had great success in his first talkie The Love Parade, a 1929 musical that featured Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette McDonald. He decided to mine that well once more by reteaming with MacDonald and enlisting Broadway star Jack Buchanan to play the male lead.

Story: Countess Helene (MacDonald) leaves her fiance (Allister) waiting at the altar and flees to Monte Carlo. While there, she catches the eye of Count Rudolph (Buchanan), who poses as her hairdresser to get close to her.

Thoughts: Another slight disappointment from Lubitsch, although it's still a really good film. Jeanette MacDonald is once again a perfect leading lady for the director, and she has a memorable music number early in the film while on a train, when she sings "Beyond a Blue Horizon" and Lubitsch includes outside sounds (like the train whistle) to complement the music. Part of the problem with the film is the odd choice of Jack Buchanan as a leading man. He just doesn't really have the right chemistry with McDonald and his hammy performance is at times highly annoying. I applaud the idea to get a less conventional leading man every now and then, but even then Buchanan really needed to dial it down a little bit. Also problematic is the lack of interesting supporting characters that we usually get in Lubitsch films (see: Lupino Lane and Lillian Roth in The Love Parade, Jean Hersholt in The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg). Both the leads have servants and despite some early promise, neither of them develop as an interesting character. The film still works thanks to MacDonald and the trademark Lubitsch wit (most memorable is the running bit where a joke is passed around until one of the tellers figures out that the joke is about him).

Postscript: Buchanan never did break out into a successful leading man and his most notable performances would come as a supporting character in The Band Wagon and Penny Serenade. Lubitsch would reunite the Chevalier-MacDonald combo one more time for his last musical, 1932's One Hour With You. "Beyond the Blue Horizon" became a hit song for Jeanette MacDonald.

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