Archive for Maurice Chevalier

The Silver-Tongued Chevalier

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , on June 26, 2019 by dcairns

Oh yes, and GIGI! How could I have forgotten seeing that yesterday? In a vintage Metrocolor print, no less. In fact, vintage prints of musicals should carry a health warning: the smallest splice can be a major irritation if it happens during a number. But this one was relatively free of such issues, and the colo(u)r was radiant.

How can something be simultaneously problematic and perfect? The sense of ickiness around the theme is mostly skirted artfully. Listening to any of the lyrics other than the title of “Thank Heaven For Little Girls” makes it clear that it’s NOT an ode to paedophilia. But there are plenty of other bits to worry about if you’re so inclined. And John Bailey of the Academy reassuring as that Leslie Caron was 26 doesn’t quite cut it — she’s playing a character who’s 14 in the book, and the movie is careful not to assign her a specific age…

But the Freed Unit has it covered. It’s great the way Chevalier, our guide through the story, is basically wrong about everything and his “well-meaning” advice is nearly disastrous. It’s helpful that Jourdan is so charming and looks younger than he is. I’m not sure if Leslie Caron’s extreme sensuality helps or hinders in this context, but I enjoyed it.

And my God, the songs, and Minnelli’s visual perfectionism! Quite hard to write about things that are perfect. I’ll have to try when I have more time.

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Monsieur in Tights

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 18, 2017 by dcairns

I’ve had my Eclipse box set of early sound Lubitsch for years without watching the films, though I always knew I would. I’d seen them all save MONTE CARLO, but only on rather fuzzy VHS off-air recordings sent across the Atlantic to me by an accountant in Baltimore (I know the right people). On DVD they’re transformed, so that what can feel like dated technique — the films were made before the microphone boom was standard kit, so they tend to favour static frames for dialogue — now seems merely like a specific stylistic approach, of its time no doubt (because everything is), but as eloquent as any other approach.

ONE HOUR WITH YOU was begun by George Cukor, working from a script prepared by producer Lubitsch will regular collaborator Samson Raphaelson, but then Lubitsch suffered the commercial failure of THE MAN I KILLED/BROKEN MELODY, and so he went running for cover and rather cruelly kicked Cuckor off the film and supervised reshoots himself. The result, a more lightweight reworking of his silent hit THE MARRIAGE CIRCLE, is indistinguishable from a full-fledged Lubitsch work.

It also gets a boost from its stars — Lubitsch had made THE LOVE PARADE with Chevalier and MacDonald previously, then made one film with MacDonald but not Chevalier and one with Chevalier and not MacDonald. When all three are reunited here, you get quite a lot of comic energy sparkling away in those locked-off frames. Also Genevieve Tobin and particularly the amazing, miraculous Roland Young, here rather surprisingly satanic as a husband who’s not so much jealous as broiling in hatred. quite KEEN for his wife to betray him so he can divorce her.

And Charles Ruggles (top), subject of my favourite joke in the film.

(Although there’s a bit where MacDonald and Tobin are whispering about Chevalier and he’s looking hilariously perturbed. It’s one of Lubitsch’s smutty false alarms — what ARE they saying? Then they become audible. “Can he really?” “Oh yes.” “He can’t, really?” “He can!” Chevalier looking VERY alarmed as this goes on. Finally, Jeanette appeals to him: “Darling. Look like an owl.” The only frustrating thing is we never get to see Maurice look like an owl. We certainly believe him capable of it. In fact, it seems to be bubbling up in him constantly, this ability to look like an owl. But he never yields to it.)

The Ruggles joke — he’s introduced late in the story, just when a schnook is required. He phones MacDonald as she’s dressing for a party (the obligatory undies scene). He’s already dressed, as Romeo. But then he learns it’s not a costume party. He calls for his valet. Why did the fool tell him it was a costume party?

“Ah monsieur, I did so want to see you in tights.”

We never see this valet again, nor is he mentioned, so we never learn more of his strange obsession. But he seems to exemplify something about the film. Lubitsch, as “the greatest writer in cinema history,” as Billy Wilder called him (though Lubitsch never took a writing credit in Hollywood), wanted to make all his characters distinctive, to impart to even the smallest bit player a measure of personality. Well, in a soufflé like this, why bother making them realistic, when what we principally need is charm and funniness? Why not make them all a bit mad?

In this idea, I propose, is the origins of screwball.

Pond Life

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 14, 2016 by dcairns

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This fortnight’s Forgotten — Chevalier! Colbert! Sturges! Hobart Henley!

Hobart Henley?

Here!