Sunday, February 10, 2008
LUBITSCH MUSICALS: ONE HOUR WITH YOU - ECLIPSE SERIES 8
The last movie in Lubitsch Musicals also happens to be the last musical Ernst Lubitsch made before his Paramount contract ran out, and the second-to-last entry in the genre he'd ever direct. One Hour With You also has other career distinctions packed in its baggage. The 1932 feature is a remake of Lubitsch's own silent film, The Marriage Circle (1924), a production decision he made after being sent in to oversee the work of a young director named George Cukor. Though Cukor would become a formidable director of musical comedies in the future, making such films as My Fair Lady, he was no match for the great Lubitsch, and One Hour With You eventually became 78 minutes without G.C.
One Hour With You has a unique beginning for a sexual farce. A police officer given the assignment of cleaning up the Parisian streets for squeamish and repressed tourists is clearing the groping couples out of a public park. The last of these insist they are husband and wife, a claim the cop finds highly dubious. And yet, it's true. In the first of his many direct appeals to the camera, Dr. Andre Bertier (Maurice Chevalier), explains that he is in fact married to Colette (Jeanette MacDonald) and is very much in love with her. He even goes so far as to tell us that if more married couples snuck off to the park for a little slap-and-tickle, there'd be far more happy marriages on the books. The very first musical number of the movie, composed by Oscar Straus with lyrics by Leo Robin, is a celebration of fidelity. How great it is to be married and always have someone in your bed!
Apparently Lubitsch had been divorced for only a year when he made One Hour With You, so he can be forgiven for having bittersweet feelings about the allegedly sacred institution of marriage. While One Hour With You is a celebration of conjugal love, it is also a cynical examination of the fragility of devotion. Temptation is everywhere, and whether one indulges or stays true, we are most often guilty until proven innocent.
For Andre, temptation arrives in the form of his wife's best friend, the sex kitten Mitzi (Genevieve Tobin). Mitzi has marriage woes of her own, all stemming from her infidelity and desire for the delirious life. As her haggard husband (Roland Young) says of the platinum beauty, "When I married her, she was a brunette. Now you can't believe anything she says."
I've often heard it said that no one is meaner to women than other women, which would go some way to explain Mitzi's decision to betray her gal pal and pursue Andre. He tries to stay out of her clutches at first, but at a dinner party, he consistently finds himself between a rock and a hard place. Further complicating matters, Colette thinks he is pursuing another eager young mademoiselle (Josephine Dunn), while the best man from their wedding and Andre's best friend (Charles Ruggles) pursues Colette. So much for the code of honor amongst men, as well!
One Hour With You bobs along at a buoyant pace, alive with lusty double entendres and wicked putdowns. (You should hear Colette decimate the mademoiselle!) Coming in just under the wire of the Hays Code crackdown on Hollywood, this love comedy is as naughty as it wants to be, even letting MacDonald strut around in her slip and low-cut dresses. Though Lubitsch doesn't pack the film with musical performances, there are several, including a ballroom scene at the party where we move from the band to the dancers, listening to them as they trade partners and solicitations. Maurice Chevalier also gets a couple of tunes where he can plead his case to the audience, showing off his skills for comic expressions. Even when the characters aren't singing, there are several dialogue scenes where they speak in rhyme, working with the rhythm of the orchestral accompaniment, giving the impression that there are more songs than there actually are.
In the end, One Hour With You doesn't really pick a side. It's not for marriage nor is it against it; rather, it's more like a plea for understanding. The final scene, with MacDonald joining Chevalier in looking beyond the fourth wall, essentially advises that if we can keep sight of where our interests lie and give as good as we get (to the good and the bad), then why let the small stuff get in the way. Love isn't being blind, it's more like knowing when and how to avert your eyes.
This is part 3 of a 3-part review of the boxed set Lubitsch Musicals - Eclipse Series 8. Part 1 can be read here, Part 2 here.