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Monday, August 9, 2010


Jeanette MacDonald & Maurice Chevalier each starred in four of the five early ‘30s musicals made by the great Ernst Lubitsch. But not the same four. The adorable SMILING LIEUTENANT/’31 put Chevalier with Claudette Colbert & Miriam Hopkins; and Jeanette made this with Jack Buchanan (of BAND WAGON/’53 fame). That may account for its lower profile. But this is the film where Lubitsch has Jeanette’s Runaway Bride flee from her own wedding, catch a speeding train, and sing ‘Beyond the Blue Horizon’ to a chorus of churning wheels, locomotion & whistles. The whole countryside joins in as Lubitsch all but invents the grammar of the film musical. As the Count who woos MacDonald disguised as a hairdresser, Buchanan is veddy, veddy British & veddy, veddy brittle. But he warms up nicely for "Always,’ their big romantic duet. Here Lubitsch creates an intimate musical style, with fluid editing from room-to-room, interior-to-exterior dissolves and a snazzy mirror shot that adds a visual rhyme to the romance. Sound technology was still difficult to handle, and some forced hilarity falls flat, but much remains remarkably sprightly. Watch for those famous ‘Lubitsch Touches,’ his beloved keys, clocks and window peeking. And an operatic climax that hilariously recaps the whole plot. Followed with a speedy encore on the ‘Horizon’ train. An edit Hitchcock would remember when he was wrapping up NORTH BY NORTHWEST/’59.

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