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The Smiling Lieutenant
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25 out of 29 people found the following review useful:

More sex per minute ...

Author: ilprofessore-1 from United States
7 March 2008

There is more real sexuality between male and female in five minutes of a Lubitsch musical than in two and a half hours of any average film you're likely to see today. Needless to say, there is no nudity. It's all done with innuendo and the extraordinary degree of energy and physical magnetism that Lubitsch manages to elicit from all his actors. For once in a film, you actually feel that these extremely attractive young people can hardly wait to go to bed with each other, and when they do (off-screen of course) the result is … transformative. When they burst out in song, as they do on the slightest provocation in a Lubitsch musical, it is because they are full of emotions they can no longer contain. There's nothing dirty or smutty whatsoever in the Lubitsch Touch, as there is sometimes in the work of his disciple Billy Wilder. Lubitsch's characters explode with life, the joy of being young and in love. There are many great film directors, but not one has ever been able to create the kind of sexual energy that Lubitsch puts into all his films. Silly as the plots may be, mediocre as most of the songs are, his films bristle with the romance and humor of life.

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27 out of 33 people found the following review useful:

Sublime, and almost immoral.

10/10
Author: David Atfield (bits@alphalink.com.au) from Canberra, Australia
28 February 2000

This film is sheer perfection - the Lubitsch Touch is here in spades. This must be one of the most charming films ever made, and it is technically brilliant too for the early talkie era. A fabulous show-case for the talents of three new Paramount stars - Maurice Chevalier has never been better, Claudette Colbert is buoyant - and Miriam Hopkins is an absolute marvel as the innocent princess. When will she be given the adulation she deserves - certainly one of the best actresses of her generation. And George Barbier is also brilliant as her father.

This film could only have been made in the pre-code days - it is very very naughty. The mating pillows is only one example of many sexual innuendos and symbols. But it is all too charming to be offensive to even the most prudish person. One of the best films of the early Thirties.

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23 out of 29 people found the following review useful:

Awesomely immoral, one of Lubitsch's finest musicals

Author: Kalaman from Ottawa
31 March 2003

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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21 out of 29 people found the following review useful:

A Cinematic Vienna Torte

10/10
Author: Ron Oliver (revilorest@juno.com) from Forest Ranch, CA
24 July 2003

Beat until thick a highly libidinous young officer of the Guards. Sift together and stir in a pompous little king and his dowdy princess daughter. Whip in gradually a lovely female violinist. Gently fold in some beautiful music and a liberal amount of highly suggestive dialogue. Lightly bake in a mythical kingdom for 88 minutes. The results - THE SMILING LIEUTENANT.

Director Ernst Lubitsch created a triumph in this scintillating pre-Code film which is as light and airy now as it was when first released. Replete with wonderful performances & an effervescent script, it is still sophisticated and remarkably frank. Lubitsch relied heavily on the intelligence of his audience. He knew that a delicate touch would be appreciated by those able to anticipate & understand the nuances of his humor. The fact that this worked so beautifully with both his dialogue and the film music - (songs and background music, which serve to move the plot right along) - only one year after Hollywood fully embraced sound pictures shows the genius of the director's craft.

Oozing Gallic charm, Maurice Chevalier lets his musical skills and highly facile face telegraph to the audience exactly what kind of an amorous rogue his character is. Madly in love with the beautiful Claudette Colbert, but forced to wed the (slightly) frumpy Miriam Hopkins, he is highly amusing as he watches his romantic house of cards come crashing down. The ladies also add greatly to the fun, with sleek Colbert advising pouty Hopkins in song to jazz up her lingerie if she wants to win Chevalier's attentions. (The idea that Hopkins must transform into a wanton woman to entice her husband to commence his connubial responsibilities is dubious at best.)

George Barbier plays the easily offended corpulent King of Flausenthurm. Wonderful character actor Charlie Ruggles is hilarious in the small role of the officer who wishes to woo Colbert first. Movie mavens will recognize an uncredited Elizabeth Patterson as the elderly baroness attending on the Princess.

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10 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Delightful confection

Author: jaykay-10
23 May 2003

If you like cotton candy, or maybe a marshmallow sundae with sprinkles and a cherry on top, this picture will be among your favorites. What could be more appealing than a Lubitsch romantic comedy with its characteristic sly innuendos? Perhaps one that is set in a palace, with uniformed guards, ladies-in-waiting, and pageantry that no one takes seriously. More appealing than that? All of the above, with music. Want more? The casting is perfect: a flirtatious, mugging Chevalier; a young and nicely naughty Claudette Colbert; and most notably Miriam Hopkins effectively playing the extremes - a prim, virginal innocent who learns the ways of a vamp in order to hold her man. As her father, George Barbier contributes impressively, too. Great fun; one of Lubitsch's best.

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10 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Charming Lubitsch Frolic

9/10
Author: FERNANDO SILVA from Santiago de Chile.
22 June 2003

Once more, thanks to TCM, we get the chance of watching this wonderful, charming, early talkie by the master of sophisticated comedy and innuendo, Ernst Lubitsch.

This is an absolutely entertaining and absorbing tale of a carefree, debonair Viennese Lieutenant, who falls for a violin player, thus finding his perfect sexual counterpart, but because of circumstances, becoming married to a prudish, mousey, princess.

Chevalier is the perfect "Smiling Lieutenant" of the title, singing in great from with his heavy trademark, french-accent. Colbert, in an early stage of her career, looks very different from her definitive trademark "Look", she acquired afterwards.....but is equally carefree, joyous and flirtatious. Miriam Hopkins is excellent as the princess, who falls madly in love with Chevalier, and who will do anything to have him!!

Just as it happened with "Trouble in Paradise", I really hope that this gem, as well as "Design for Living", "Monte Carlo", "The Love Parade", "Love Me Tonight", "One Hour With You", will become available on DVD, in decent form, as they deserve, as primary examples, of the long gone Pre-Code Era!!!

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5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

"Glamour in the grapefruit"

7/10
Author: Steffi_P from Ruritania
26 February 2010

In that era we rather misleadingly call "pre-code", infringements against the production code (which was fully in existence, just lacking in enforcement) came in all shapes and sizes. While some producers titillated their audiences with tentative nudity or shocked them with frank portrayals of infidelity and prostitution, others used delicate but potentially more flagrant transgressions of innuendo. It was at Paramount studios, in the pictures of Ernst Lubitsch, that innuendo was taken to astounding new heights of creative expressiveness.

Of course, Lubitsch was and still is known for his tact in implying the unspoken, but he did not operate in a vacuum. The Smiling Lieutenant was his first collaboration with screenwriter Samson Raphaelson, and while Lubitsch was no doubt the driving personality behind his famous "touch", it seems Raphaelson (who would have a hand in most of the director's subsequent hits) thought enough along the same lines to make the pictures he wrote by far the most "touched". So while Lubitsch gives us visual clues such as the young lady using a secret knock to get into Maurice Chevalier's room, followed by a close-up of a light going on and off, it was probably Raphaelson who contributed some of that witty wordplay that adequately sets the tone. My favourite example of this has to be Chevalier's reply to Miriam Hopkins asking if married people winked; "Oh they do, but not at each other!" And then there are Clifford Grey's lyrics, which playfully delve into some of the more inventive innuendo, most memorably in "Breakfast Table Love".

Chevalier is the perfect star for this kind of understated ribaldry. He has a "touch" of his own, in the way he smiles and raises his eyebrows, that curiously yet alluring treads the line between lecherous and charming. His appearance here, after the disappointing Monte Carlo with Jack Buchanan, demonstrates how important the right kind of actor is for such a role. If Jack Buchanan invited you to breakfast, you'd think he was making a polite offer to pop round in the morning for tea and toast. When Maurice Chevalier invites you to breakfast, there is absolutely no doubt that he wants you to spend the night, and frankly doesn't care what you fancy eating the next morning! Claudette Colbert makes a great screen partner for Chevalier. She is not quite the talented singer that Jeanette MacDonald is, but she has a slinkiness to her that suits the story's undertones, and would later be exploited by Cecil B. DeMille in Sign of the Cross and Cleopatra. This may be one of her earlier roles, but she shows a great confidence and maturity about her that is perfect for the part. The third corner of The Smiling Lieutenant's love triangle is Miriam Hopkins. Hopkins is sometimes mistaken for a bad actress. This is not the case. She is in fact an excellent ham, as were Charles Laughton and John Barrymore, by no means a subtle or realistic player, but nevertheless utterly captivating in the right role. She is excellent here as the naïve and frumpy young princess, displaying her finest comedic sensibilities.

The Smiling Lieutenant contains only five songs, far fewer than previous Lubitsch musicals. With the exception of "Jazz Up Your Lingerie", the numbers also seem far less integral to the narrative than they were in Monte Carlo (which by the way is the best in terms of musical direction and integration, albeit the worst in every other respect). And yet this is a very consistently musical production. In 1931 it was still unusual for pictures to feature incidental music, and ironically the early talkies were often genuinely silent whenever the actors stopped talking. The Smiling Lieutenant however is scored almost from its first minute to its last. Contrary to the later practice of writing all music after filming wrapped, I suspect the incidental scoring may have been prepared beforehand and even played on the set. In particular Claudette Colbert's poignant abandonment of Chevalier seems almost choreographed to its sweeping string arrangement.

When such backing scores became commonplace, they sometimes actually spoiled a picture's integrity, blaring out emotional cues for each scene when none was required. But for The Smiling Lieutenant it is a positive bonus, providing a light and lyrical setting for the many wordless moments. And this of course is all the better for those neatly constructed vignettes of unspoken innuendo, sly winks at the audience that are so fabulously clever they are a delight in themselves.

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5 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Wonderful fun and good advice: Jazz up your lingerie

8/10
Author: Terrell-4 from San Antonio, Texas
8 April 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Shall I see you again?" asks Lieutenant Niki von Preyn (Maurice Chevalier). "Oh, I hope so," says Franzi (Claudette Colbert), the luscious and liberated young violinist and leader of an all-girl orchestra in Vienna. Niki met her an hour or so ago at an outdoor biergarten. "When?" "Well, perhaps tomorrow night. We could have dinner together," she says "Ohhh…don't make me wait 24 hours. I'm so hungry!" "Well then…perhaps we could have tea…tomorrow afternoon." "Why not breakfast…tomorrow morning?" Niki suggests with a smile. "No, no. First tea…then dinner…then…maybe…breakfast." The scene fades out with a kiss…and the next scene opens with a shot the next morning of two eggs being fried.

It is apparent that Franzi and Niki are delighted with each other. But then Niki, called to duty as the captain of the guard while the King and Princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins) of Flausenthurm are welcomed into Vienna with a grand procession, smiles and winks at Franzi from across the cobblestone street…just as the king and princess pass by in their open coach. Wouldn't you know it, Princess Anna thinks Niki had the temerity to flirt with her. She's outraged. The king says Niki must be punished. But when they meet, Niki's charm does the trick. Except now Princess Anna, who only knows of life and love from an encyclopedia where all the good parts were removed, is determined to marry him…and believes Niki loves her. When she threatens to marry an American if she doesn't get her way, her father, the king, decides he must agree. His little Anna is in love. Duty, honor and the Emperor dictate that Niki must marry the princess. But with the marriage, where does that leave Franzi? And after the marriage, for that matter, where does that leave Niki?

Well, if anyone could make a light-as-air, amusing and naughty operetta about joyous sex and then performance resistance, which includes viewing a variety of inviting-looking beds, Ernst Lubitsch is just the director. There's a slightly bittersweet but essentially happy ending, of course, even if Niki stays married. "Girls who start with breakfast usually don't stay for supper. Take care of our Niki," says Franzi to Anna…but only after advising the princess in song about the secrets of keeping a man happy and active...namely, to jazz up your lingerie.

Chevalier and Colbert do expert jobs to keep this plot moving so quickly and charmingly that we don't have time to think too much about it. For me, however, Miriam Hopkins just about steals the movie. She's innocent and sly, spoiled and naive and somehow is able to be all these at the same time. We know what we're getting with Chevalier and Colbert. We delight in it. Hopkins, however, surprises us and makes us laugh every time she appears. Her line delivery is a work of art. Hopkins had an unsatisfactory career in Hollywood, and it's our loss. Enjoy her skill and style in Trouble in Paradise and Design for Living, both directed by Lubitsch. They were at the top of their game, both of them, and that's saying a lot.

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6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Ra-Ta-Ta-Ta-Ta !toujours l'amour...

10/10
Author: elisedfr from France
30 August 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The smiling Lieutenant begins as a sweet,funny and old fashioned operetta and finishes as one of the most daring,surprising and irresistible musicals of all time.I'ts Lubitsch at his best:a sort of Ninotchka of his musical period.

The story is simple: a seductive lieutenant is in love with a musician,Franzi.When he smiled to her during the passage of a little country's princess,the princess interpret wrongly his intention and decide to marry him.Some months later,unhappy husband of a unhappy wife he find Franzi again...But spoilers herein and here is the most brilliant point of the script:Chevalier doesn't end with Franzi but his own wife after the musician gave her some "lessons" of seduction.

The actors are all quite good:Maurice Chevalier is as charming and funny as always.Claudette Colbert great in one of her earlier performance.And she shows a barely known talent for singing.But I think the first prize comes to the Miriam Hopkins,in the princess's part she is just magnificent.She's as convincing as the cute and old falhsioned dove as the femme fatale.I've already seen a bit of his comic talent in "Trouble in Paradise" in which she does an exhilarating naive secretary .She's even better there. Charlie Ruggles does a nice although too short demonstration of his comic talent.

There's not so much song in it but they're all great.The lieutenant "Ra-Ta-Ta-Ta'" acts as a pleasant leitmotiv."Breakfast is time for love" has the soft charm of One Hour With You.But my favorite stays "Jazz Up Your Lingerie"Certainly one of the greatest number of all time!

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9 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Lubitsch's magic

8/10
Author: jotix100 from New York
27 December 2004

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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