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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>
Ernst Lubitsch came to Hollywood in the years before the "Code", or censure, if you will, that plagued all artists working during that era. This is a clear example of what could be done in the movies when the scissors of the censor were not in the picture, no pun intended.
If you haven't seen the film, please stop reading now.
This film is based in an operetta. It's light, it's frothy, it's naughty, and it's a delight to watch it more than sixty years after it was made. Mr. Lubitsch was a genius in creating films that bore his signature like no other director of the time. His European background is constantly in display. He had a sensitivity for giving the viewer a glimpse of that old world he had left behind when he emigrated to America.
Mr. Lubitsch worked with the best actors of the times. His choice of Maurice Chevalier, or maybe it wasn't his decision, but the studio's, pays handsomely in this movie. Mr. Chevalier brought his own style to the American cinema and he can be a bit strange in the way he reacts in front of a camera, but in spite of his school of acting, he went to become a favorite in this country too.
Mr. Chevalier plays the bon vivant lieutenant in the Austrian army who has a roving eye for any beautiful woman that crosses his path. He finds that, and much more with Franzi, the violinist in charge of an all women's orchestra. It's clear what attracted Niki to Franzi; she is a beauty who aims to please. There is no subterfuge in the relationship; Franzi moves right in into Niki's apartment. This couldn't have been done in the movies later on, when the Hays code came into being.
Claudette Colbert had a lot of charisma. In "The Smiling Lieutenant" she shows why she was a star in her own right. Ms. Colbert and Mr. Chevalier made these lovers look right. Nothing is done in the open and everything is done with great taste, although the viewer can guess what's really happening without too much guessing.
To complicate matters, our lieutenant is fancied by a dowdy Princess Anna on a visit to Vienna. Since honor is at stake, Niki marries her, but his heart is left behind with Franzi. Niki doesn't want any part of this woman who has been imposed on him.
When Franzi and the orchestra make an appearance in the neighboring country, Niki discovers her and they go back to their trysts whenever they find the time, to the chagrin of the princess. Franzi realizing she could never get Niki without causing a great scandal, gives in, and in the process, transforms the "ugly duckling princess" into a lovely swan. Miriam Hopkins playing Anna ends up with the man she wanted. The final scenes suggest that yes, they will have their fun after all.
The set decorations of the film are breathtaking. The palace scenes, the costumes, take the viewer to the Austro-Hungarian empire. This film will please anyone looking for an easy time at the movies thanks to Ernst Lubitsch.
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