The Smiling Lieutenant

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I only knew Maurice Chevalier from “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” from Gigi. However, I discovered his much earlier film The Smiling Lieutenant, 1931 a grand farce. If you like silly old time films with romance, you’ll like this. Chevalier plays a young lieutenant who’s quite a flirt. At the start of the film, his superior comes to him bemoaning how he loves a sweet young thing in spite of loving his wife. Chevalier’s Niki advises him to stick with his wife, and shortly thereafter Niki is wooing the sweet young Franzi, played by Claudette Colbert. Franzi is a modern woman who’s fine with “free love.” I hadn’t seen a 1930s woman with such a character.

Niki and Franzi fall madly in love, but trouble ensues when Niki accidentally waves at a sheltered princess from a small province. Her father a prince feels disrespected and immediately interrogates Niki. Before you know it, Niki saves his skin by talking his way into a shotgun wedding to the princess. What to do?

On the wedding night and during the honeymoon phase, Niki breaks the princess’ heart by keeping his distance from her and slipping off for rendezvous with Franzi.

It’s not the usual romance. I kept wondering how the story would end happily. While the film was a little sillier than I like, it was fun and different. There are several light-hearted songs which enhanced the film. I did think it was odd that Chevalier is supposed to be a native of Vienna though he speaks with his usual distinct French accent.

All in all, it was a fun film, though not a masterpiece.

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Le Poison

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The comedy in Sacha Guitry’s La Poison (1951) is trés noir. In fact, I’m unsure if I should like it. In this guilty pleasure, La Poison gives us Paul Bracconier, a husband who can’t take his wife. Generally, I can’t stand jokes that put wives or husbands in a bad light, or that are just a series of complaints. But Blandaire Bracconier, the wife in question, is such a mean-spirited drunk with no redeeming qualities and it does seem that with a nicer woman, Paul would be a-okay, so I made an exception.

Also, since the wife has purchased rat poison to do her husband in, it seems they’re on equal footing.

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Played by Michel Simon (Two of a Kind , Port of Shadows and many other classics), Paul has a redeemable side. He doesn’t rush to murder his wife. At the start of the film he visits the local priest for sympathy, mercy and perhaps some advice.

When he hears a radio interview with a lawyer honored for getting murderers off, he goes to meet the lawyer. The conversation with the unethical lawyer convinces Paul that, yes, he can get away with murder so he is emboldened to try.

Scenes with the neighbors and their children add to the humor. One of my favorite scenes involves Paul’s neighbor visiting him in jail and recounting how grateful the neighbors are to Paul because his crime has increased tourism and business in the hamlet.

An entertaining film, La Poison is a dark, old-fashioned comedy that does show the problems in the legal system. According to the background commentary, Guitry made it as a commentary on his own incarceration when he was wrongly accused of collaborating with the Vichy government during WWII.

Le Ciel à Vous

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Jean Grémillion’s Le Ciel à Vous, stands out as it’s uplifting film. Released during the occupation during WWII, it’s the story of a married couple, who must move their family’s home and business when their land is sold to make room for an aviation club’s airfield. Thérèse and Pierre Gauthier are happily married and even when they disagree they respect each other. They have a daughter and a son.

When Lucienne Ivry, a famous aviatrix, performs at the airfield, the Gauthier’s flock to the show. Nostalgic, Pierre remembers his days as a mechanic in WWI. He’s a master mechanic and saves the day when Ivry’s airplane’s engine fails.

Pierre grows more and more keen on flying and takes it up as a hobby. Meanwhile, his competent, beautiful wife gets more jealous. Her jealousy propels her to take up flying herself on the sly. When Pierre finds out, he panics. But when he sees how much she loves flying, they begin to share this somewhat dangerous hobby. Since Pierre’s a great mechanic and Thérèse has a knack for business, they are able to afford their own plane. In fact, they soon start winning prizes for aviation. All isn’t smiles though, when the family hits some financial troubles, the parents decide to sell their daughter’s piano. (The daughter was a fabulous pianist, but the mother made her quit the piano since she wanted the girl to enter a more practical field.)

Gremillon_Filmw_CielVous_originalEven when the going gets tough, and it seems that they should sell their plane, Pierre and  Thérèse keep flying. She racks up so many trophies her mother complains of all the extra dusting. As proficient as he was, Pierre knew their plane couldn’t break any more records for me. Then Thérèse decides she has a good chance to break the women’s long distance record of 2000 some miles. Her mother is against it and Pierre is torn too. He wants her to seek fulfillment and he does believe she can do this, but he also realizes it’s dangerous. Grémillion gives us such a multi-faceted marriage at the film’s core. Each wants the best for each other. Both Pierre nor Thérèse believe in fulfilling their duties to their business and family. They don’t just do what feels good. They’re cheerful, smart people throughout the story and while they may disagree, they do so with respect and dignity, which was so uplifting to watch.

The plot held my attention and I admit I wasn’t certain what would happen at the end. This is a film I’d definitely watch again.

Bed and Board

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I’m working my way through the DVD set, The Adventures of Antoine Doinel, and watched the fourth film, Bed and Board (Domicile Conjugal in French). Bed and Board delights as it shows Antoine as a newly wed. He’s married Christine whom he met in the previous film Stolen Kisses. The film offers a charming look at Antoine and his better functioning family members (i.e. his wife and in-laws) as he continues to hop from job to job. At the start of the film, Antoine’s job is coloring flowers for a florist shop. When his experiment to dye flowers red blows up, he soon gets a job with an American company controlling model boats in a harbor. It’s a silly job, which he got through an error, but Antoine never complains.

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As a husband and father, Antoine is old fashioned in a quaint way and really wants to play out his role as protector and loving husband and father in his dreamy way. Christine and Antoine do disagree and have problems, but none are major. One of my favorite part of the movie is how Antoine goes behind Christine’s back to name his son. Yes, the was wrong. They should have solved the problem if only by flipping a coin, but it was a cute, very Antoine move.

Truffaut is amazingly sensitive about how he shows childbirth, infidelity and conjugal life. I’m guessing it was his style and not censorship in 1970s France. It made me smile.

A chance encounter with a Japanese siren, for whom his chivalry leads to temptation, shows a failing, and . . .

SPOILER

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Made for Each Other

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With Carole Lombard and Jimmy Stewart, Made for Each other has been described as the “serious side of the screwball comedy.” I saw it on YouTube for the MOOC I’m taking on Marriage and Movies. We’re only in week 2 so if you’re interested, sigh up.

Young attorney, John Mason (Stewart) meets Jane (Lombard) by chance on a business trip to Boston. He surprises everyone by returning to New York with a new wife. Most surprised of all is his mother, with whom he lives (which wasn’t as unusual as it is today). Both the mother and John’s boss, a crotchety, hard of hearing lawyer played by Charles Coburn (later known as Uncle Joe on Pettycoat Junction) think such haste is insanity, yet both Jane and John are so sensible and good looking that the audience buys their union. Surely, love will prevail. Or will it

The only problem I had with the film was the continual use of “the baby” rather than the child’s name, Johnny. It’s a bit of a deus ex machina ending, but I bought it.

Yet as the first years of their marriage progress, life hits them hard. John is passed over at work and money is tight, extremely tight after their baby is born. John’s mother and wife bicker as they share a small apartment. Everyone seems to be pulled to the brink and despite their sensibility and earnest attempts to persevere, the marriage is in jeopardy.

Made for Each Other held my interest because it was so original, so different from the screwball fare of couples meeting and bickering until they make it to the altar. It’s a rare look at what happens after people say, “I do.”