Musical Monday: The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) – Musical #358

Studio:
Paramount Pictures

Director:
Ernst Lubitsch

Starring:
Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert, Miriam Hopkins, Charles Ruggles, George Barbier, Hugh O’Connell, Elizabeth Patterson (uncredited)

Plot:
While Lt. Nikolaus ‘Niki’ von Preyn (Chevalier) is standing at attention for the visiting king of Flausenthurm, he winks at his girlfriend Franzi (Colbert). The king (Barbier) is furious, thinking Niki is laughing at his daughter, the Princess Anna (Hopkins). To escape a potential court marshall, Niki says he was winking at Princess Anna, which complicates his love life.

Trivia:
-Paramount’s top film of 1931
-Though a fun and happy film, not all was happy on set. Ernst Lubitsch and his wife Leni were going through a divorce and Maurice Chevalier mother had just died. Miriam Hopkins and Claudette Colbert also didn’t get along.
-Shot simultaneously in French with all the actors speaking in French
-In the 1950s, this film was believed to be lost but was found in the Danish Film Archives
-Based on the operetta Ein Walzertraum by Oscar Straus and a silent version of this story was filmed in 1925 under the title “The Waltz Dream.”

Miriam Hopkins, Maurice Chevalier and Claudette Colbert in a publicity photo

Highlights:
-Claudette Colbert singing

Awards and Nominations:
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture

Notable Songs:
-“Jazz Up Your Lingerie” performed by Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins
-“Breakfast Table Love” performed by Maurice Chevalier and Claudette Colbert
-“One More Hour of Love” performed by Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins

Miriam’s underwear vs. Claudette’s. Claudette teaches Miriam how to jazz up her underwear to keep her husband. (Screen cap by Jessica)

My review:
The Criterion essay calls this film “infectiously giddy,” which is the perfect description.

The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) is a treasure trove of a film for a classic movie lover. It has the “Lubitsch touch,” as it was directed by the revered director Ernst Lubitsch; is quite Pre-Code in its content and is a musical, though it is not chockful with songs. Each song provides storytelling and helps advance the plot and share the character’s feelings.

With all of that, it is so fun! Some examples of pre-code include Maurice Chevalier’s womanizing and inviting women to breakfast, implying they will stay the night. Claudette Colbert even sings a song to Miriam Hopkins about how to “Jazz Up Your Lingerie” to attract men.

This is the only musical that Claudette Colbert ever made and while her song wasn’t terribly strong, she still gets by and sounds adequate. I do feel sorry for Claudette Colbert in this movie because I want her to be with Chevalier.

The only real disappointment of The Smiling Lieutenant is Charles Ruggles’s incredibly small role. You see him at the beginning and then he doesn’t return.

The Smiling Lieutenant is so much fun and one I would readily suggest to anyone looking for a good pre-code. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of musicals, there aren’t any tunes that are show-stopping. All of the songs are light, humorous and fun.

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