Breaking new ground here with what is, technically, the first musical reviewed on the blog* (That’s Entertainment being a compilation documentary). More Lubitsch over the next day or two, this time from the Eclipse box of his early Paramount musicals, so we’ve leapt quite some way in time and space from those German films of his we saw recently… by this time he was established in Hollywood, just signed to Paramount, and ready to tackle the new sound technology (the silent The Patriot apparently had talking sequences in 1928 but I don’t know if they were done by him or not). Apart from making pretty much instant stars of its two leads (Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette Macdonald), it also apparently pioneered the operetta style of musical where the songs are part of the story, as opposed to the revues and stage-based stories that otherwise predominated in early musicals. Interesting to see this again after Applause; I first saw this some 12 years ago in one of David Stratton’s classes, at which time it seemed about as advanced as a 1929 talkie was likely to get (especially by comparison with Alibi, which we saw the week before), and I suppose it was, though next to Mamoulian’s film you can see a degree of comparative stiffness, some quite lengthy static takes… IMDB says it was actually shot silent and completely post-dubbed, but I call bullshit on that, it doesn’t look silent-shot to me. Story is a nice little battle-of-the-sexes job, Chevalier’s womanising count marries MacDonald’s queen but he’s really the “housewife” in the arrangement as he has nothing to do except just be the Prince Consort until tables turn in the last act. Songs didn’t strike me as terribly interesting, but they’re pulled off nicely enough by the film’s stars (Lupino Lane and Lillian Roth, his and her servants respectively, also get to do good stuff as the film’s other couple), and the whole thing works quite well as a successful transition into post-silent Hollywood for Lubitsch.
(* Whoops! Guess which fuckwit forgot until two days after writing this that The Cocoanuts was actually a musical as well…)