Hollywood romantic musical about a poor French tailor (Chevalier) who arrives on the country estate of a wealthy duke (Smith) and begins to fall in love with his widowed daughter (McDonald) after he is mistaken by her for an aristocrat.
Maurice Chevalier ... Maurice Courtelin a.k.a Baron Courtelin
Jeanette MacDonald ... Princess Jeanette
Charles Ruggles ... Viscount Gilbert de Varèze (as Charlie Ruggles)
Charles Butterworth ... Count de Savignac
Myrna Loy ... Countess Valentine
C. Aubrey Smith ... Duke d'Artelines
Elizabeth Patterson ... First Aunt
Ethel Griffies ... Second Aunt
Blanche Friderici ... Third Aunt (as Blanche Frederici)
Joseph Cawthorn ... Dr. Armand de Fontinac (as Joseph Cawthorne)
Robert Greig ... Major Domo Flammand
Bert Roach ... Emile
No, really -- I defy anyone to name a movie musical more exuberant, more creative, more romantic, melodic, hilarious, or escapist; not even "Singin' in the Rain" equals it. From opening shot (a rhythmic ballet-mechanique of Paris coming to life at dawn) to fade-out (a happy-ending finale that also parodies Eisenstein), it's bursting with ingenious ideas.
The pre-Code screenplay, rife with double entendres and social satire, is a princess-and-commoner love story written to the strengths of its two stars: Chevalier, never more charming, and MacDonald, never a subtler comedienne. With one foot in fantasy and the other in reality, it manages to sustain an otherworldly feeling even while grounded in the modern-day Paris of klaxons, tradesmen, and class consciousness. The supporting cast is phenomenal, with Myrna Loy as a man-hungry countess, C. Aubrey Smith doing his old-codger thing, Charles Butterworth priceless as a mild-mannered nobleman ("I fell flat on my flute!"), and Blanche Frederici, Ethel Griffies, and Elizabeth Patterson as a benign version of the Macbeth witches' trio.
All are wonderful, but the real muscle belongs to the director and the songwriters. Mamoulian's camera has a rhythm of its own and many tricks up its lens: note the fox-hunt sequence suddenly going into slow-motion; the Expressionist shadowplay in Chevalier's "Poor Apache" specialty; the sudden cuts in the "Sonofagun is Nothing But a Tailor" production number. As for the Rodgers and Hart score, it's simply the best they ever wrote for a film -- maybe the best anybody wrote for a film. The songs are unforgettable in themselves -- "Isn't It Romantic?", "Mimi," "Lover," etc. -- but, and here is where genius enters, they're superbly integrated and magnificently thought out. Note the famous "Isn't It Romantic" sequences, the camera roaming effortlessly through countless verses from tailor shop to taxi to field to gypsy camp to castle, finally linking the two leads subliminally, though their characters have never met. "A musical," Mamoulian once said, "must float." This sequence may float higher than any other in any musical.
Best of all, you can sense the unbridled enthusiasm the authors must have had for this project: Rodgers and Hart seem positively giddy with the possibilities of cinema, eager to defy time, place, and reason as was never possible for them onstage. What a pity that this magnificent movie isn't available on video, so that future generations can't easily rediscover its brilliance.
This is an enchanting film, one of the best musicals of the decade. Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald are incredibly appealing in a rich-girl-poor-boy musical romance. It's one of those rare films where the girl runs away from the palace to follow her true love and you *don't* think "wait a minute, you'll never survive out there", no, you want them to be together. The score is enchanting (the big hits being "Isn't it Romantic" and "Lover"), Chevalier is devastatingly attractive, and MacDonald is vulnerably appealing and completely without the annoying primness that marred her later films.
It's also a remarkably well made film for 1932, when most films were just getting used to sound and suffered from a horrible stiffness on the part of the actors and the camera. You'd think this movie was made ten years later, it's lively and sparkling, and directed with a smoothness and originality that's still amazing.
Without a doubt, this is a film that should be seen by more people as it was way ahead of its times! The film is helped by the magnificent direction of Rouben Mamoulian, who knew a thing, or two, about how to create movies that endured the passage of time. The film has the magnificent score by Rodgers and Hart, the leading geniuses of the American musical theater.
The picture is a joy to watch from the beginning. The opening sequence in Paris, as people go about their daily routine, ending with Maurice arriving at his own tailor shop is amazing. The story is pure fantasy, but it serves the movie well. The time where this movie was made had a different feel and there was an innocent air surrounding the magic the new talking pictures that were coming out in the early 30s.
The casting proves to be also excellent. Maurice Chevalier, who was an idol in France, made it big in America. He had a personality that put a good feeling to any character he played. Jeannette McDonald, the leading lady was a favorite of the movie going public and it's easy to see why she was adored.
Also a young and fresh Mirna Loy, joins Charles Ruggles and Charles Butterworth in the supporting roles.
This film should be included in any collection of the discriminating movie fan.
* This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Libary of Congress, in 1990.
* For its post Production Code re-release (after 1934), this film was trimmed down to 96 minutes. Those missing minutes have never been restored and are presumed lost.
* According to her autobiography, Myrna Loy was originally going to wear white empire-style dress for the party sequence, but Jeanette MacDonald was jealous of how she looked insisted that she had to wear it herself instead. Loy surrendered the dress, but then went down the to the costume room and, with a friend's help, put together the black lace outfit she wears in the final film. She stole the scene.
* Among the deletions in the film's 1949 reissue was Myrna Loy's portion of the "Mimi" reprise. In the Production Code era, Miss Loy's negligee was deemed too revealing.
* One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since.