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Archive for the ‘Miriam Hopkins’ Category

Trouble In Paradise

31 Dec

Trouble In Paradise – directed by Ernst Lubitsch — High comedy involving two international con artists who meet and match.  Black and white [1932]

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Mind you, Lubitsch’s comedies don’t bring you the steak and kidney pie of realism. But if you can endure the faint afterglow brought on by the finest hock accompanied by the most exquisite of Viennese pastry, then you are invited to the party. Lubitsch had a directorial technique that engages the audience as accomplices in the narrative itself.  Watching Lubitsch one congratulates everyone including oneself. Billy Wilder who trained himself under Lubitsch said: “The key is to make it effective, but don’t make it obvious. Make it clear to them, but don’t spell it out like the audience are just a bunch of idiots. Just aim it slightly above their station and they’re going to get it. This is what I learned from Ernst Lubitsch. He had a real touch, a gift of involving the audience into writing the script with him as it was unfolding on the screen. In other words, he was not the kind of a director who kind of hammered it down and said, ‘Now listen to me, you idiots. There now, put down the popcorn bag, I’m going to tell you something. Two and two is four.’ He said, ‘No, just give them two and two and let them add it up. They’re going to do it for you. And they’re going to have fun with it. They’re going to play the game with you.'”  Here the game is the contest between the attraction existing between society thieves Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall conflicted by the moolah they separately might seize upon. Even the customarily nasty Miriam Hopkins is likable here, and Kay Francis, she of the beautiful arms and eyebrows, well, she’s elegant and generous, and perfectly matched with Marshall, who strikes just the right note as the suave amorous cat burglar. What is funny here cannot and must not be described here, since it must come upon you as a surprise. But let us say, the director masters the material by letting the audience master it too, that is by letting us in on the telling of the tale, and we dive in head first. There is no other choice. Trouble In Paradise is a seminal cinema work. It is thought of as the greatest high comedy ever put down on film. All writing and directing for the screen since its time flowers around it — if, that is to say, the comedy is humorous, the comedy of humans rather than the comedy of clowns. We are not talking about situation comedy here or cartoon. Because we are not talking about directing for broad effects. No – funny as that may be – this is tastier. It is not in the line of screen pantomime as in Chaplin or in screen acrobatics as in Keaton, either. Here’s what I mean: Lubitsch once directed a silent version of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan without using a single caption of Wilde, and yet Lubitsch created exactly the Wildean style on screen. Now I ask you. So, sit back with your better bottle of wine, and prepare to smile and, not just to be flattered but to join in the flattery yourself.

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The Smiling Lieutenant

31 Dec

The Smiling Lieutenant — directed by Ernst Lubitsch — a musical triangle with M. Chevalier at the center, set in some Grausarkian mitteleuropean utopia where such a thing is conceivable. A candy box plot of who shall eat the bonbon. Black and white [1931

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What a madness! There stands Maurice Chevalier desired by Claudette Colbert on the one side and Miriam Hopkins on the other. It’s the same plot situation in One Hour With You — a Chevalier standard. He was touted as having irresistible charm, I expect, because there was so much in it to resist. That chimpanzee mouth. Those rollicking eyes. Those giddy shoulders. What he does have is a beautifully shaped patent leather head, broad shoulders, physical speed. What he has is accessibility to the scene and to the other actors, and this makes him flexible and responsive. He also had an insuperable confidence in his sexual attractability. Like everybody else, he adored working with Lubitsch — Garbo said Lubitsch was the only director of talent she ever worked with. The performance here is Colbert’s. She was French but did not speak with Chevalier’s gruesome French accent. But I shouldn’t say that, for it was part of his Gallic allure, supposedly, for indeed he spoke perfect unaccented English in everyday life, and his accent was purely for performances purposes. Anyhow, Colbert is so loving, so susceptible, so much fun, so kind, so pretty that one roots for her over and against the poisonous and spoiled Hopkins. During a parade, Chevalier has smiled across the street to his girlfriend, Colbert, but Hopkins, a princess passing in a barouche, believes him to be smiling at her. Trouble, my friends, ensues. The songs are minor and easy and work well with Chevalier’s song-speak style. The production is stupendous, the lighting velvety. Old George Barbier is marvelous as the king. Lubitsch is ruthless about the ruthlessness of sex. That is his great joke. That was God’s great joke upon us. That is why all actors thought Lubitsch was God — and maybe he was.

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