Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lubitsch and 'The Love Parade'

The more Ernst Lubitsch films I watch, the higher he moves up on my list of all-time great directors.

And with “The Love Parade,” his first sound film released in late 1929/early 1930 (depending on the source), he demonstrates that renowned touch with a visual wit that was lacking in most musicals at this time. In fact, when you compare this to “The Broadway Melody” released by MGM just one year prior, Paramount’s “The Love Parade” makes “Melody” look like an ancient relic.

That’s partly due to the rapid increase in sound technology, partly due to the lavish production values and mostly due to Lubitsch’s expert direction, which makes you forget how few sets this film really has.

The film also features Maurice Chevalier in his first Hollywood sound film and Jeannette MacDonald in her film debut. The only thing lacking is the story itself, which is pretty thin and pretty predictable, despite being based on a play called “The Prince Consort.”

Chevalier plays Count Alfred Renard, the playboy ambassador to France from Sylvania. His numerous love affairs result in his being called home by Queen Louise (MacDonald). Everyone wants to know when the queen will marry, and when she meets the suave Renard, she falls for him – and he for her.

But while Renard doesn’t mind being a prince, he soon learns that he doesn’t like being subservient to the queen.

Lubitsch has fun from the beginning, when Lupino Lane sings a short opening song that’s punctuated by his character pulling away a napkin off a table and leaving the dishes on top of it unmoved. It’s that kind of rhythmic wit that runs through the film. One of my favorite scenes is the first date between Renard and the Queen. Instead of showing the date, the action is narrated by three separate groups peering through the windows or listening at doorways – the queen’s advisers, the queen’s ladies in waiting, and Renard’s valet and the chambermaid he’s wooing. It’s an inventive way of moving along their affair.

Audiences flocked to the film because its sophistication was different from most of the early movie musicals, which were backstage affairs. The film received five Academy Award nominations, including best picture, best actor and best director, but did not win anything.

Lubitsch would continue that marvelous wit for years to come, working with both stars several more times (including “The Merry Widow,” which I reviewed a few years ago). MacDonald eventually moved to MGM where she successfully teamed with Nelson Eddy, while Chevalier put his amorous movie persona to good use for several more years before returning to France.

14 comments:

  1. I like all the films that MacDonald and Chevalier did together. Lubitsch musicals are always so great--and so funny!

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  2. I'm not a huge fan of Maurice Chevalier, but he does give a charming some what hammy performance, in this musical. In her film debut, the lovely Jeanette MacDonald, is also very charming partner to Chevalier.

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    1. His hamminess is part of the appeal for me. It's charming rather than grating, and he did have chemistry with MacDonald.

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  3. I'm beginning to more admire the Lubitsch touch as the years go by. He made everything sing - even when it wasn't a musical.

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    1. 'He made everything sing' -- what a great description of Lubitsch. I think someone younger may not appreciate his touch because it's not overt.

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  4. Filmboy, those early Lubitsch musicals are in a class by themselves. They show how charming Chevalier could be and how MacDonald could be sexy and genuinely sweet in way she never seemed to recapture after moving to MGM. I like the way you show in your post how Lubitsch found clever and innovative ways to show the action and to blend music and narrative. In this one I especially like the second leads, the diminutive, acrobatic Lane and the statuesque, sassy Helen Morgan. They make a wonderful couple and contrast to the leads.

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    1. Thank you! I agree completely, and I like the second leads. They add a jolt of fun to the proceedings. I

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  5. Yes, yes, yes! Lubitsch, Chevalier and MacDonald - 3 that were made to go together! They sparkle like fine champagne. The continental touch and sophistication is rare and intoxicating (although my favorite Lubitsch, Chevalier and MacDonald film was not directed by the master ("Love Me Tonight") - but could have been!).

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    1. I know ... "Love Me Tonight" is fantastic and fits in well with the Lubitsch films.

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  6. I like this one a lot too, and glad you made the comparison between it and "Broadway Melody." Even though separated by a year, "The Love Parade" seems much more fresh and inventive.

    I find early sound musicals fascinating. Some are just content to set the camera and record the numbers straight on with no cutting or camera angles, and others, like "The Love Parade" and the following year's "Monte Carlo" were determined to stretch the boundaries of the musical as far as possible. A fine review.

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    1. Thank you! There were so many musicals made during the first years of the sound era, and most aren't inventive. Lubitsch was arguably the first who figured out how to film a musical properly.

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