This week’s mystery movie has been the 1931 Paramount film “The Smiling Lieutenant,” with Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert, Charlie Ruggles, Miriam Hopkins, George Barbier and Hugh O’Connell. The film was directed by Ernst Lubitsch, written by Ernest Vajda and Samson Raphaelson, based on “The Waltz Dream” by Leopold Jacobson and Felix Dormann, and the novel “Nux Der Prinzgemahl” by Hans Muller, with music by Oscar Straus, lyrics by Clifford Grey and photography by George Folsey. It was preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
It is available on DVD for $47.96 in the four-disc box set from the Criterion Collection: “Lubitsch Musicals” with “The Love Parade,” “Monte Carlo” and “One Hour With You.”
July 10, 1931: “The Smiling Lieutenant” receives its Los Angeles premiere at the Carthay Circle Theater in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times said: “The Carthay Circle premieres are the only glittering gestures left to the industry in Hollywood, as it is the sole premiere theater in the cinema capital.”
I like to contrast the critical opinions of films in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, and this contrast is especially evident with “The Smiling Lieutenant.” The Los Angeles Times always comes off as the provincial country cousin compared to the New York Times.
Writing in the New York Times (May 23, 1931), Mordaunt Hall said:
Wit and melody swing through Maurice Chevalier’s latest picture, “The Smiling Lieutenant,” which is now adorning the Criterion screen. That cinematic artist, Ernst Lubitsch, supplies the rapier-like comedy and none other than Oscar Straus is responsible for the charming musical compositions….
Herr Lubitsch, in the greater part of this production, reveals himself to be once again a master of the microphone as well as of the camera. When a character walks up a long flight of stairs, his steps are accompanied by musical strains that afford laughter and when another individual uses a perfume spray in a room there are notes that are emphatically provocative.
Writing in the Los Angeles Times (July 13, 1931), Edwin Schallert said:
Some of it is in hopelessly bad taste (possibly due to New York influences on the director) and fragmentary portions are even crude, but there is ever and anon the flash of that rare ingenuity in pointing and building the comedy touch that the director has been known by ever since the time of “The Marriage Circle.” This brilliance, at times, is marked especially in the scenes between Barbier and Miss Hopkins. (This was Hopkins’ second feature film and Barbier’s third feature – lrh).
I like this type of Lubitsch devilment. I like the elements of surprise in his humor — the sudden and appalling slaps administered by the queen and the lieutenant’s light love the one to the other. This being rough, but amusing. The director is clever, too, in his almost low-brow depiction of the pride and vanity of a small-time ruler and his inoffensive, shut-in boohooing daughter, who craves genuine admiration from a man.
I dislike utterly much of the music, especially that sung by Chevalier and Miss Colbert together, and also chiefly the cheap innuendoes, which are unworthy of the smart Lubitsch style.
For Monday, we have a dashing mystery gent.
Update: This is Robert Strange.
For Tuesday, we have this mystery guest….
… And in a happier moment.
Update: This is Hugh O’Connell
Brain Trust roll call: Mike Hawks (mystery movie and mystery guest) and Dan Nather (mystery movie, mystery director).
For Wednesday, we have this mystery lady.
Update: This is Miriam Hopkins.
Brain Trust roll call: David Inman (Tuesday’s mystery guest), Mike Hawks (Tuesday’s mystery guest) and Anne Papineau (the mystery movie’s genre, which I don’t usually give credit for, but why not?).
For Thursday, we have this mystery gent.
Update: This is George Barbier.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (mystery movie and mystery guests), Tucson Barbara (mystery movie and mystery guests), B.J. Merholz (Wednesday’s mystery woman and mystery directory), Mike Hawks (Wednesday’s mystery woman), Floyd Thursby (mystery movie, Wednesday’s mystery woman and foreseeing Thursday’s mystery guest), Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie and mystery guests), David Inman (mystery movie and Wednesday’s mystery guest), Dan Nather (Wednesday’s mystery guest), L.C. (mystery movie and mystery cast) and Lee Ann, Megan and Thom (Wednesday’s mystery guest).
And for Friday, we have…..
Update: This is Claudette Colbert and Maurice Chevalier.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (Thursday’s mystery guest), Tucson Barbara (Thursday’s mystery guest), Mike Hawks (Thursday’s mystery guest), Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s mystery guest) and Lee Ann, Megan and Thom (mystery movie, Tuesday’s and Thursday’s mystery guests).