A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Love Parade (Ernst Lubitsch, 1929)

It irritates me a little to think that MGM, thanks largely to those That's Entertainment clip shows in the 1970s, is celebrated for its movie musicals, when in fact the genre was pioneered and perfected at other studios: Warner Bros. with its Busby Berkeley dance spectacles, RKO with its Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers cycle, and Paramount, where Ernst Lubitsch virtually invented the story musical with The Love Parade and subsequent re-teamings of Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald. (Oddly, today MacDonald is better known for her inferior and unsexy MGM teaming with Nelson Eddy.) MGM didn't achieve musical greatness until the end of the 1930s, when after the success of The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939), the studio put its associate producer, Arthur Freed, in charge of the film musicals unit. True, MGM had won a best-picture Oscar with The Broadway Melody (Harry Beaumont, 1929), but that was a standard backstage musical, not one in which the songs and dances are fully integrated into the plot. Besides, it's almost unwatchable today, whereas thanks to the charm of Chevalier and the sexiness of MacDonald in her revealing pre-Code frippery, but most of all to what is known as "the Lubitsch touch," The Love Parade is still enjoyable. Lubitsch's "touch" as a director was based on a sly conviction that the audience would get the joke, usually a naughty one, and it was perfected during the silent era, when things had to be shown, not told. So the film opens with a mostly silent demonstration of why Count Alfred Renard (Chevalier) has caused such a scandal with his dalliances in Paris that he has to be recalled to Sylvania and rebuked by Queen Louise (MacDonald). But this is also a film that wittily integrates sound into its sight gags, as the entire Sylvanian court eavesdrops on the burgeoning love of Alfred and Louise. The plot, derived by screenwriters Guy Bolton and Ernest Vajda from a French play, is standard, slightly sexist stuff about the prince consort, Alfred, feeling miffed by the fact that his marriage to the queen leaves him with nothing to do, but it's carried off well by the leads, as well as the saucy servants, Jacques (Lupino Lane) and Lulu (Lillian Roth), and a court full of skilled character actors like Eugene Pallette, Edgar Norton, and Lionel Belmore. It's too bad that the song score by lyricist Clifford Grey and composer Victor Schertzinger isn't better -- there are too many reprises of "Dream Lover," for example -- but Lubitsch's staging compensates for its weakness.