Tuesday, October 6, 2009
The Smiling Lieutenant (Ernst Lubitsch) ****
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Cast: Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert, Miriam Hopkins, George Barbier, Charles Ruggles
Background: This was the third of Ernst Lubitsch's early talkie musicals, the first of which (The Love Parade) also starred Maurice Chevalier and made him a star. Claudette Colbert also previously starred with Maurice Chevalier in 1930's The Big Pond.
Story: Niki (Chevalier) is a Lieutenant in the Austrian Royal Guard who falls in love with Franzi (Colbert). One day, he is winking at her on duty when his gestures are mistaken for a visiting princess (Hopkins) from the small kingdom of Flausenthurm. Niki is able to charmingly talk his way out of punishment for that offense, but can't talk his way out of the arranged marriage with the princess who now loves him.
Thoughts: Another delightful Lubitsch musical and among his best films overall. Maurice Chevalier and Claudette Colbert make a terrific romantic pair, and the musical numbers between them are outstanding. However, the biggest surprise in the film is Miriam Hopkins. Her character appears at first to be a one note spoiled brat, but Hopkins (and Lubitsch) makes her a wonderful, charmingly naive person. This really sets the film apart from most that deal with love triangles by allowing us to like both choices. In fact, one of the best scenes is when the two women meet and actually gain an understanding of one another. There's quite a bit of sexual innuendo in this pre-code talkie and Lubitsch "touches" are found all throughout the film. My favorite is when Niki tries to talk his way out of the marriage:
"When you winked at my daughter, were your intentions honorable?"
"Well, then naturally, you'll marry her."
"My intentions were dishonorable!"
"Then you'll have to marry her!"
Dialogue like that just can't be found in most films. Lubitsch wraps things up with a surprisingly satisfying ending that mixes sadness and happiness, and is a whole lot of fun.
Postscript: The film was nominated for Best Picture. Lubitsch would make his final musical the following year, a film called One Hour With You, also with Chevalier. He would also release Trouble in Paradise that same year, which turned out to be one of his most notable films and also starred Hopkins. Colbert would win the Lead Actress Oscar for the enormously successful 1934 film, It Happened One Night.
Posted by Larry McGillicuddy at 8:37 PM