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THE SMILING LIEUTENANT

USA, 1931 (MIFF 1991, Retrospectives)

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

A guards officer (Chevalier at his leering inimitable peak) is torn between a ravishing violinist, Franzi (the exquisite Colbert) and plainish Princess Anna (spirited Hopkins) whom our hero's been forced to marry. This typically Lubitschean set-up forms the basis for what Clive Hirschhorn in The Hollywood Musical describes as "a wry and enchanting fairy tale" which " frothed along, bringing out the best in its director and his three principal players." Oscar Straus's melodious score cunningly interweaves into the deliciously saucy scenario such numbers as "Toujours L'Amour in the Army", "Breakfast Table Love" and a delightful duet for the female leads, "Jazz Up Your Lingerie". A rare chance to enjoy some classic sophisticated fun orchestrated by the auteur's auteur Ernst Lubitsch. (PK)

"The Smiling Lieutenant was Lubitsch's third sound film and his third musical in a row. Characteristically, his approach to the genre was a unique blend of the developing tradition of American musical comedy with the conventions of Viennese operetta remembered from his youth. In Lubitsch's early musicals the camera functioned almost as another performer, swooping and darting to follow the actors as they rushed about the screen. In his book The Lubitsch Touch, Herman G.Weinberg cites the moment in The Smiling Lieutenant when Claudette Colbert's run up a flight of stairs dissolves to a shot of her hands as they glide to the top of the scale across a piano keyboard, the whole sequence edited to give the effect of one continuous movement."

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