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Douglas Fairbanks Jr.,
Lieutenant Niki of the Austrian royal guard has a new girlfriend, Franzi. He's crazy about her and is smiling at her while on duty in the street. King Adolf and his daughter Princess Anna from the neighboring kingdom of Flausenthurm drive by, and Anna intercepts a wink meant for Franzi. She falls for Niki, marries him (he has no choice in the matter), and whisks him off to Flausenthurm. Franzi follows and enjoys a brief affair with Niki before Anna finds out. Franzi, much more experienced in the ways of the world, gives Anna lessons on how to win the affections of her husband. Written by
John Oswalt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Awesomely immoral, one of Lubitsch's finest musicals
Lubitsch's third great musical is perhaps his most immoral, along with "One Hour With You". The screenplay by Ernest Vajda and Samson Raphaelson is replete with the occasional Lubitschian double entendres and naughtiness. The film often recalls the lilting grace of Lubitsch's "The Love Parade" but it also looks ahead to the ironic romantic triangle of Lubitsch's lauded masterpiece "Trouble in Paradise".
Here, Chavalier's Lieutenant Niki is torn between an aristocratic princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins) and a working class violinist Franzi (Claudette Colbert), the same way Herbert Marshall's Gaston in "Trouble in Paradise" must choose either Kay Francis's wealthy Madame Colete or his fellow thief, Miriam Hopkin's Lily. But there is a difference. In "Trouble in Paradise", Gaston abandons Mme. Colete for Lily, but in "Smiling Lieutenant", Chevalier unconditionally accepts his forced romance with Anna. At first, Niki is happily fond of Franzi who is introduced to him by his friend Max (Charlie Ruggles, who played one of rejected suitors in "Trouble in Paradise"). But ultimately he is forced to marry princess Anna of the neighboring kingdom of Flausenthurm. The love scenes between lieutenant Niki and Franzi are incredibly charming and flavorsome, while the marriage of Niki and Princess Anna seems unpleasant and uninspired. But the film's charm or brilliance lies in its joyous musical numbers and songs, and its ironic immoral look at its characters. Irony and cynicism are key to understanding Lubitsch's art, especially his works of the early 30s, and "Smiling Lieutenant" is no exception. There is, for instance, an irony and immorality in the lovely number "Jazz Up Your Lingerie", as Princess Anna tries to emulate Franzi in order to look sexy for Niki.
"The Smiling Lieutenant" remains Lubitsch's most underrated musical. Not many people have seen it. It deserves to be seen and compared with Lubitsch's later works, particularly "Trouble in Paradise."
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