We’re not quite done with Chevalier and MacDonald yet, though… After seeing those Lubitsch musicals, it was interesting to see another director using them, particularly when said director is Rouben Mamoulian, who we saw making his first film a few days ago. How would it compare, particularly given what Jonathan Rosenbaum says about the critical debate over whether it was imitation Lubitsch or pisstake Lubitsch. The idea that it might be its own beast apparently doesn’t occur… either way, with all due respect to uncle Ernst, his Armenian counterpart outdid him on this one; much as I liked Lubitsch’s musicals, the music was, to be sure, often the weakest part of them. Mamoulian had no such trouble; apart from his film being more actually “musical” than Lubitsch’s (particularly those last two), he had Rodgers & Hart on his side. Not only more, but better. The story is not a million miles away from what we saw in Monte Carlo, except this time it’s Chevalier’s humble Parisian tailor inadvertently forced to play a baron when he goes to collect a debt from one of his noble customers and arrives in the middle of a gathering of “the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible”. If Applause often felt like Mamoulian saying “fuck you” to the Hollywood technicians struggling with sound in 1929, this is much more relaxed and genial, the most obvious examples of overt technique being the stag hunt (which begins with comical fast motion and ends with even funnier slow motion) and the handling of the song “Isn’t It Romantic”, passed among various characters like “Wise Up” in Magnolia but with far less pretension. I’ve said before that I wished I’d known some films would be so good or I would’ve seen them years before I did, and this is one of those (although years ago I just couldn’t get my hands on the thing to watch it); it really is kind of tremendous.
Love Me Tonight (1932)