Ernst Lubitsch

What’s on TCM: January 2014

Joan CrawfordHappy new year!  I hope you all had a very happy holiday season. I had a lot of fun revisiting all my favorite holiday movies in December, but now it’s time to get back to watching more regular movies and luckily, TCM is going to make that transition very easy for me.

Break out the shoulder pads, eyebrow pencils, and Pepsi because Joan Crawford is the Star of the Month!  A marathon of Joan Crawford movies will start every Thursday night at 8:00 PM and each week will focus on a different era of Joan’s career.

This month’s installment of Friday Night Spotlight will feature Science in the Movies and is going to be hosted by Dr. Sean Michael Carroll, PhD, a senior research associate at the California Institute of Technology’s Physics department.

Other noteworthy things happening in January include Judge Judy as Guest Programmer, a celebration of past and present recipients of the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, and 24 hours of movies by Columbia Pictures to commemorate the studio’s 90th anniversary.  Now, let’s take a more detailed look at the line-up…

(more…)

Monte Carlo (1930)

Monte Carlo 1930 PosterJust as she’s about to marry Duke Otto von Liebenheim (Claude Allister), Countess Helene Mara (Jeanette MacDonald) leaves him standing at the altar and hops on the next train to Monte Carlo.  Helene may be a countess, but she’s broke and only would have been marrying Otto for his money.  She’d rather try her luck gambling with what little money she has than marry Otto.

On her way to the casino one night, Helene passes by Count Rudolphe Falliere (Jack Buchanan) and he knows he has to meet her.  He tries to get her attention, but doesn’t have much luck.  So Rudolphe comes up with the idea of posing as a hairdresser named Rudy as a way of getting close to her.  The plan works and it isn’t long before they fall in love with each other.  Helene has no idea that Rudy is actually very rich so as her financial woes continue to worsen, she’s tempted to go back to Otto.  But when Rudy offers to take the last bit of Helene’s money to the casino and comes back with 100,000 Francs (not from gambling winnings, from his own money), Helene’s decision gets even harder.

Just when it looks like Helene is going to marry Otto, Rudy gets her to see an opera about a familiar story — a man who gets close to a woman by posing as a hairdresser.  During the show, Helene realizes who she really belongs with and finds out the truth about who Rudy really is.

If you’re a fan of Ernst Lubitsch’s musicals, you’ll probably enjoy Monte Carlo.  It’s not the best of his musicals, but it is so unmistakably Lubitsch that I couldn’t not like it.  It’s a pleasant little lark.  Even though the story isn’t the strongest, Lubitsch’s distinctive brand of style and sophistication was enough to hold my interest.  However, I didn’t really care for Jack Buchanan as the leading man.  I would have preferred to see Maurice Chevalier in his role.

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

Heaven Can Wait PosterWhen Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) dies, he has no delusions about going to Heaven.  But before he can go anywhere, he has to explain to the devil why he belongs in Hell.  So he starts telling his life story, beginning with his privileged childhood spent living with his parents and doting grandfather (Charles Coburn).  As a teenager, his family hires a maid and tutor who helps put him on the path to becoming a real playboy.  Just as Henry is about to turn 26, Henry meets Martha (Gene Tierney), the woman of his dreams.  The only problem is that she is already engaged to his cousin.  However, Martha is more interested in Henry so they elope.

Ten years later, on the morning of Henry’s 36th birthday, Martha tires of him stepping out on her so she leaves.  With encouragement from his grandfather, Henry patches things up with her and they elope all over again.  Another twenty-five years pass and Henry has settled down, but their son Jack (Tod Andrews) is behaving much like Henry had when he was younger.  On the night of their twenty-fifth anniversary, Henry notices Martha hasn’t been feeling well and she dies a short time later.

Without Martha in his life, 60-year-old Henry is back to staying out late and cavorting with women.  Jack, on the other hand, has settled down and become a responsible business man.  Henry lives to be 70 years old and dies in his bed, under the care of a beautiful nurse.  After hearing Henry’s life story, the devil decides that Henry does not belong in Hell, for he has made many people in his life happy.

Considering its cast and director, I went into Heaven Can Wait with very high expectations.  For me, this was an example of the adage, “Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”  Heaven Can Wait isn’t one of my favorite Ernst Lubitsch films, but I’m so fond of Lubitsch that even if one of his movies isn’t a favorite of mine, I still enjoy it very much.  Gene Tierney and Don Ameche made a wonderful couple and Charles Coburn was perfectly cast as Henry’s grandfather.  The story is very sweet and has a great deal of warmth to it.  However, I just didn’t feel like it was quite in the same league as some Lubitsch’s other films like Ninotchka, Trouble in Paradise, or The Shop Around the Corner.  But those are some very lofty standards to live up to and even if Heaven can Wait doesn’t quite reach them, it’s still a pleasure to watch.

What’s on TCM: December 2012

It’s hard to believe we’re already down to the final month of 2012, but leave it to TCM to end the year on a high note!  There is so much going on that I’m excited for.  First and foremost, we get Barbara Stanwyck as Star of the Month!  Every Wednesday night in December will kick off a 24-hour block of Stanwyck movies, and since I know a lot of my readers are big Stanwyck fans, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got plenty of room on your DVRs.  Every Friday night this month will be a salute to director Ernst Lubitsch, so you know every Friday night is going to be good.

Naturally, you can expect plenty of Christmas movies throughout the month.  Also worth noting is Baby Peggy night on December 3rd.  Baby Peggy is one of the last surviving stars from the silent era and was recently the subject of the documentary Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room, which will be airing on TCM that night along with some of her movies.

(more…)

Paramount in the 1930’s

Times were tough for just about everyone during the 1930’s, including Paramount Studios.  In the early 1930’s, Paramount was on the brink of financial disaster and with the Great Depression, audiences needed darn good reasons to spend what money they had on movie tickets.  Paramount was facing some pretty tough competition, too.  MGM had Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, and Joan Crawford;  Warner Brothers had their gangster flicks and Busby Berkley musicals.  But Paramount rose to the challenge and created some of the most definitive movies of the decade with some of the best talent in town.

(more…)

The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

Niki von Preyn (Maurice Chevalier) is a Lieutenant in the Austrian Royal Guard.  One night, Max (Charlie Ruggles) asks Niki to join him at the beer garden to see Franzi (Claudette Colbert), a violin player, perform.  Even though Max is married, he’s got a thing for Franzi and thinks that having Niki along will make their date seem more legitimate.  But as soon as Niki sets eye on Franzi, he instantly falls in love with her and convinces Max that she is all wrong for him so he can have her all for himself.  Niki and Franzi’s relationship turns very passionate very quickly.

A wrench gets thrown into their relationship when the King of Flausenthurm and his daughter Princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins) come to Vienna.  Niki joins his fellow soldiers for their procession into town and Franzi watches on across the street from Niki.  Niki can’t resist giving Franzi a smile and a wink, but he does it just as the King and Princess Anna pass by.  Anna notices and since she isn’t the prettiest princess ever, assumes Niki is mocking her.  The incident makes all the headlines and when Niki is brought in to be disciplined, he tries to get out of this mess by saying that he was just so in awe of Anna’s beauty that he couldn’t help himself.  Flattery will get you everywhere with these royals and all is forgiven.  In fact, the King even arranges it so that Niki will be close to them for the rest of their visit, much to Anna’s delight.

Niki continues to secretly see Franzi, but Anna has developed very strong feelings for Niki.  In fact, she even goes as far as getting permission to marry him.  When Niki finds out about this, he is shocked and can’t figure out a way to get out of this mess.  With his relationship with Franzi now over, he goes ahead with his marriage to Anna.  But Anna is so uptight, dowdy, and dull that when he finds out that Franzi is in town, he starts seeing her again secretly.  When Anna finds out about this, she is very upset and wants to meet with Franzi.  Although Anna initially wants to kill Franzi, she realizes that Franzi would be a great person to get advice from on how to make Niki happy.  The two of them end up hitting it off and Franzi gives Anna some tips on modernizing her look and their visit ends with them singing a song called “Jazz Up Your Lingerie” together. Franzi’s advice proves to be a big success and Anna and Niki live happily ever after.

The Smiling Lieutenant is another one of those delightful Ernst Lubitsch pre-codes.  Super stylish, sophisticated, witty, and well acted.  The whole movie is so much fun to watch, but it’s worth seeing if only for the wonderful scene where Anna goes to confront Franzi, the sing their song, and Anna has her makeover.  It’s just so outrageous in the best possible way.  This is the kind of thing you could only get away with in the pre-code era.  Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins are such a riot together!  I love Miriam Hopkins in just about anything, but she was never better than when she was in Ernst Lubitsch comedies.

Trouble In Paradise (1932)

If you want to steal from wealthy people, you have to get close to wealthy people.  And what’s the best way to get close to wealthy people?  Pretend to be a fellow wealthy person!  That’s just what Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) does when he goes to Venice.  While pretending to be a Baron, he steals from plenty of prominent guests, including a countess named Lily (Miriam Hopkins).  Only Lily isn’t really a countess, she’s also a thief so she recognizes what Gaston is really there for.  He had her pegged, too, after she swiped his wallet.  The two of them are so impressed with each other’s thieving skills that they fall madly in love with each other on the spot.

Lily and Gaston are quite the crooks and they steal their way across Europe.  While in Paris, they steal a diamond-studded handbag belonging to Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), the owner of a very famous perfume company.  But when Mariette puts out an ad offering a 20,000 Franc reward for the bag’s return, they realize they’d make more by turning it in than by selling it and Gaston goes to turn it in.  But when Gaston gets there and realizes that Mariette is awfully careless with her money, he convinces her to hire him as her secretary, planning to embezzle money from her company.  The plan works and Lily even gets hired on as Gaston’s assistant.  The only thing that doesn’t go according to plan is that Gaston and Mariette fall in love with each other.

Eventually, Mariette starts bringing Gaston along with her to social gatherings, but some of Mariette’s wealthy friends recognize Gaston.  Plus people in the company are starting to suspect that Gaston has been stealing money for them.  Even though her friends warn her about him, Mariette doesn’t want to give up on Gaston.  Meanwhile, Gaston and Lily are planning to skip town, but Gaston is torn between staying with Mariette or leaving with Lily.  The last thing they had planned to steal was 100,000 Francs from her safe, but before they leave, Gaston decides to come clean to Mariette about who he is and what he was really there to do.  Lily interrupts his confession to announce that she is the one who has stolen the 100,000 Francs and that Mariette is welcome to have Gaston for that price and leaves Gaston to decide who he wants to be with.

I positively adore Trouble in Paradise.  It’s sharp, witty, got plenty of lavish sets, and a top-notch cast.  There’s no going wrong with Miriam Hopkins in an Ernst Lubitsch comedy, but when you add in Kay Francis and Herbert Marshall, plus Charlie Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton in some supporting roles, you’ve got cinematic gold.  I just love everything about it.  Trouble in Paradise is total pre-code and pure Ernst Lubitsch.