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Archive for the ‘Maurice Chevalier’ Category

Love In The Afternoon

16 May

Love In The Afternoon — directed by Billy Wilder. Romanic Comedy. A notorious Lothario and a pretty young music student exchange blisses. 130 minutes Black and White 1957.

★★★

This is one of the creamiest Hollywood romantic comedies and it is also the most revolting. What makes it creamy is its confection by Ernst Lubitsch, here impostured by his devotee Billy Wilder, who makes anew Lubitsch’s light, deft, and magical touch with Viennese Pastry. In his heyday, everything Lubitsch did, whether comedy or musical, was operetta, and he used Maurice Chevalier as one of the consistent ingredients, here now present as Audrey Hepburn’s father, although he does appear old enough to be her grandfather. Never mind: he makes no attempt to crush you into marzipan with his charm, and he is just fine. All he has to do is love her, and, since she is Audrey Hepburn, this is not hard to do. Her gentle sense of fun leavens the dessert. What is hard to take is her antediluvian leading man. Why this actress was set opposite ancient leading men for so much of her young life is a mystery. Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, Burt Lancaster, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, the presence of only the last of whom can be said to be justified. I suppose it was to sustain her range as an ingénue. For she was a true ingénue, and we did not have another one until Gwyneth Paltrow, so it’s a rarer flower than one might suppose. Although at the time she made this film she was 29, her quality was always 19, and it is so here. However that may be, whom we have opposite her is an actor in an advanced state of decomposition, Gary Cooper. He has lost his slim hips, so while he wears beautiful clothes he does not look good in them. His face did not age well; his visage sags with sadness; he has luggage under his eyes. He is too darned old. And he is such a bad actor. He cannot pick up his cues properly. He cannot do the simplest actor’s task with simple conviction. And we are still asked, aged 57, to swallow his fraudulent naiveté, and the phony supposition that taciturn men are more profound, more honest, and more masculine. (Have you ever known a cowboy who wasn’t a blabbermouth?) He is completely unconvincing as a wealthy internationally renowned roué, a la Porfirio Rubirosa, just as he was in Lubitsch’s Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife. In real life, Cooper was a roué, but that does not mean he will admit to the shame of so being as a character. What one senses underlying his presence is his overweening vanity, his contempt, and his stumbling deliberately to blind us to his lack of natural or even professional ability. He never would accept a movie in which he died; he had always to be the hero. The logical ending to this movie, which the entrancing Audrey Hepburn carries upon her thin Givenchy-laden shoulders, is that he jump off the train to marry her, but no, he sweeps her on the train to become his mistress. Disgusting. Otherwise, the film is charmingly conceived and written, beautifully filmed by William Mellor, who worked with George Stevens so often. The Lubitsch touches have to do with four musicians going through a door and a rolling liquor table, and a hat, and they are endearing. Lubitsch liked people a lot more than Billy Wilder did, and that cannot be taught. But the film is likable, although revolting, and a model for making a smooth confection to perfection.

 

One Hour WithYou

09 May

One Hour With You – directed by Ernst Lubitsch – Musical. Two ladies vie for the bedroom of M. Chevalier, one of them is married to him, one isn’t.  80 minutes Black and White 1932.

* * * * *

Lubitsch’s perpetual sense-of-humor-cigar is that sex is a jest that people inevitably loose their sense of humor over. The one who loses it here is Jeanette MacDonald just as Florence Vidor lost it in Lubitsch’s 19245 silent version The Marriage Circle. Now, I want you to listen very carefully to what I am about to say, for no matter what you may think of “old” films, especially this old, they possess a quickness of wit and heart to be found no place else. You may adore or despise the hairdos and the decor. You may find the music and the tone to be “Viennese” and dated. You may dismiss the frivolity, but you’d be a suicidal killjoy to miss any movie that begins with a line like this: “She was a brunette when I married her, and now I can’t believe a thing she says.” Again, in this piece we have the light-operetta style so suited to the non-singer. I speak of Maurice Chevalier. Chevalier appeared to sing. Of course he didn’t sing; he never sang a note his whole life long. He simply appeared to. So do we care whether he will jilt his wife and spend the night with that most forward of minxes, Genevieve Tobin? Perhaps not, but that is the entire point. Neither should his wife, Jeanette, care. Sex is a cocktail glass from which anyone may sip, provided there is fresh martini in it. Why not? If sex is not a cocktail, then how can you make a movie about the folly of sex? And what we mean by sex is sexual attraction. The act itself is best left to closed lids. Your drama could never entertain points about that attraction unless your setting was frivolous. For, when the frivolous becomes the essential, you have something worth looking at. And Lubitsch provides you with this. You, with him, have a way of seeing. You have a way of penetrating. With point of view, you have a chance of latitude of view. You have a fixed position around which you may gaze in all directions. With Lubitsch’s films one is complicit. Why in drama and in life does infidelity seem far more momentous than fidelity? It is because we have made what is unimportant important, and it is important to see that we have. Lubitsch gives us that permission. A respect. A distance. A stepping back. Provided, of course, that you are not actually experiencing sexual attraction at the moment. Otherwise you can relax. You can see that sexual attraction is droll and endearing and that infidelity is simply a beguiling possibility. You don’t have to worry about making the rent. You can laugh. And, best of all, you can breathe like a human being once again.

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One Hour With You

14 Jan

One Hour With You — directed by Ernst Lubitsch –– A musical in which two ladies vie for the bedroom of M. Chevalier. black and whitel [1932]

* * * * *

Lubitsch’s perpetual sense-of-humor-cigar is that sex is a jest that people inevitably loose their sense of humor over. The one who loses it here is Jeanette MacDonald. Now, I want you to listen very carefully to what I am about to say, for no matter what you may think of “old” films, especially this old, they possess a quickness of wit and heart to be found no place else. You may like or despise the hairdos and the decor. You may dismiss the frivolity, but you’d be a rash to miss any movie that begins with a line like this: “She was a brunette when I married her, and now I can’t believe a thing she says.” Again, in this piece we have the light-operetta style so suited to the non-singer. Maurice Chevalier appeared to sing. Of course he didn’t sing; he never sang his whole life long. He simply appeared to. So do we care whether he will jilt his wife and spend the night with that most forward of minxes, Genevieve Tobin? Perhaps not, but that is the entire point. Neither should his wife, Jeanette care. The world is a cocktail. Why not? If the world is not a cocktail, then how can you make a movie about the folly of sex? And what we mean by sex is sexual attraction. The act itself is best left to closed lids. You could never entertain points about that attraction unless your setting was frivolous. When the frivolous becomes the essential, you have something worth looking at. You have a way of seeing. You have a way of penetrating. You have a chance for latitude of view. You can relax. You don’t have to worry about making the rent. You can laugh. And, best of all, you can breathe like a human being once more.

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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

* * * * *

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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The Love Parade

31 Dec

The Love Parade  — directed by Ernst Lubitsch –A musical comedy in which The Queen of Sylvania is pestered by her people to wed. She’s fed up with the idea. Suddenly in walks The Count, sent home from Paris for his shenanigans. She no sooner claps eyes on him than she marries him. Then, of course, the trouble starts. black and white sound [1929]

* * * * *

Maurice Chevalier could not say two lines together. But he could say one line together. Each time he is given a second line a pause falls between them and with that pause worlds come to an end. So every two-line speech sounds like a recitation. From the beginning to the end of his performing life, which was long, this was so. But even so, he is delightful. He really likes women as they are. He really likes himself as he is. He really is pleased how much women like him. He is full of good will and kindness towards everyone. And he is a really responsive actor. And occasionally, as here, he will even sing, and we will have to listen to it. However, what we have here, amid stupendously luxurious sets, polished floors, ceiling to floor swags, and scads of servants, is the sexuality of Jeanette MacDonald, who physically resembles no other actress so much as Geraldine Page: the same long graceful arms and hands, the same beautiful legs, the lanky torso, the shape of her head, her rich smile and lickerous eye. But the main resemblance is her sexuality. No, she was not sexy, she was something more profound and rare in women: she was visibly sexual. This is the telling quality against which her domineering behavior over her new husband comes a cropper. This is the, but never stated, visual adventure of this film for us: the comedy between MacDonald’s female sexuality on the one hand and Chevalier’s male sensuality on the other. Will they survive? Will they mesh? Will they last? Is there a plot? Does there need to be? Do you really need to know where the bucket came from in which that champagne bottle was nestled? You’d better say no.

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