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Minutes before her wedding to Duke Otto Von Seibenheim, Countess Helene Mara flees, on a whim, to Monte Carlo, where she hopes her luck will save her poor financial state. There, Count Rudolph Farriere is taken by her beauty, but she rebuffs him, not even looking at him. Assuming the guise of a hairdresser, he finally succeeds in seeing her, night and morning. Sparks fly, and love ensues - but can she love a lowly hairdresser? As her finances worsen though, the Duke arrives, and his money and social status seem even more enticing. Shunning Rudolph, will her story follow the operatic "unhappy ending", or can she have it all? Written by
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. See more »
Jeanette MacDonald is referred to as a blonde early on in the dialogue. She was actually a redhead, and no attempt was made to lighten her hair to make her look blonde. Her hair photographed the dark grey red hair usually reproduced as on the black-and-white film used in 1930. See more »
The first twenty minutes of Monte Carlo is so enjoyable and promising, you might think you're watching one of Ernst Lubitsch's best musical comedies. The film kicks off with a highly amusing sequence at the palace of a silly aristocrat, where a wedding ceremony goes disastrously awry. First, the well-wishers are doused by a sudden rainfall (as we see a banner proclaiming "Happy is the Bride the Sun Shines On"), and consequently the members of the processional are forced to switch from a stately march to a mad scramble into the church. Then the groom is informed that his intended bride has fled, and we soon learn that this is the third time she has done so. But the groom's father insists that the wedding gifts will not be returned, and sends his son out to calm the guests. The groom, Otto, is played by Claude Allister, a bizarre-looking character actor who specialized in playing silly ass Englishmen. Otto treats the crowd to a song assuring them that he'll retrieve his bride and that "She'll Love Me and Like It!" This number is hilarious, and whets our appetites for more.
Next we meet the runaway bride herself, Countess Helene (Jeanette MacDonald), who, with her maid (ZaSu Pitts) has hopped a train without even bothering to find out where it's going -- nor did she take the time, when fleeing, to dress in anything beyond her slip and a light jacket. Once in her compartment she promptly doffs the jacket. (Can you say "Pre-Code"?) After an amusing exchange with a train conductor played by former Sennett comedian Billy Bevan, Jeanette sets her course for Monte Carlo and then sits back in her compartment, gazes happily out the window, and sings the film's most famous song, "Beyond the Blue Horizon." This sequence is renowned among film historians as one of the best musical numbers of the early talkie era, one that transcended the stage-bound conventions holding back other filmmakers. Here Lubitsch artfully combines a montage of traveling shots, the rhythmic sounds of the train, the swelling strains of the orchestra and MacDonald's voice to create a genuinely exhilarating number.
Unfortunately, once our Countess reaches Monte Carlo it marks the point where the movie itself has peaked. From here on, it steadily loses momentum and never again regains the propulsive cheer of those opening moments. I'm not entirely sure why the famed Lubitsch Touch faltered in this case, but in my opinion the biggest single error was the casting of Jack Buchanan in the male lead. Buchanan was a popular stage star in London, but he didn't succeed as a star in Hollywood, and his performance in this film demonstrates why. To put it bluntly, the man is an oddball: spindly, toothy, nasal-voiced and entirely too pleased with himself to score a hit as an appealing leading man. I think Buchanan must have been one of those performers like George M. Cohan or Fanny Brice whose stage magnetism didn't translate into movie stardom, or at least, not in this sort of role. He's ideal as the pompous stage director in The Band Wagon (1953), but that's an older, mellower Jack Buchanan in a funny character turn. Here, he's pretty hard to take, and none of his songs are as memorable or as cleverly staged as Jeanette's "Beyond the Blue Horizon." (And strangely, although he was celebrated in England for his dancing, he has no dance numbers at all.) Instead, Buchanan is given the film's most campy, embarrassing song, a paean to barbering called "Trimmin' the Women," a number that looks like it escaped from the Celluloid Closet. Things get worse later on when the plot calls for Buchanan to turn macho, and he gruffly orders Jeanette around, which is like watching Franklin Pangborn portray a drill sergeant.
With no Maurice Chevalier to play opposite (and Nelson Eddy still waiting in the wings), Jeanette MacDonald is pretty much left to her own devices. She's charming, but can't carry the picture by herself. Still, even if she'd played opposite a different leading man, Monte Carlo's verbal humor falls short in the later scenes. Lubitsch boosts the comedy quotient with some characteristic visual gags, bits involving missing boudoir keys and a church clock with mechanical musicians, and these moments help, but too many punch-lines fail to land, and too many scenes conclude on anti-climactic notes. Even ZaSu Pitts has to strain for laughs. I feel the director showed more assurance in this film's predecessor, his first talkie The Love Parade, which was boosted by Chevalier's high energy performance and some terrific supporting comics.
Fans of early musicals will want to catch the first two numbers here, but once you've arrived beyond that blue horizon and reached Monte Carlo, you may want to bail. After the first twenty minutes or so this film will most likely be of interest primarily to Lubitsch buffs and Jeanette MacDonald fans.
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