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Edward Everett Horton
Maurice Courtelin, a Parisian tailor (Maurice Chevalier), is owed a great sum of money by a viscount (Charles Ruggles). Stalling for time, the titled but penniless nobleman moves Maurice into the family chateau and passes him off as a baron. The beguiling Maurice soon charms the entire aristocratic household, except for the haughty Princess Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald), who remains suspicious of him. But suspicion eventually gives way to love. Written by
Dan Navarro <email@example.com>
No, really -- I defy anyone to name a movie musical more exuberant, more creative, more romantic, melodic, hilarious, or escapist; not even "Singin' in the Rain" equals it. From opening shot (a rhythmic ballet-mechanique of Paris coming to life at dawn) to fade-out (a happy-ending finale that also parodies Eisenstein), it's bursting with ingenious ideas.
The pre-Code screenplay, rife with double entendres and social satire, is a princess-and-commoner love story written to the strengths of its two stars: Chevalier, never more charming, and MacDonald, never a subtler comedienne. With one foot in fantasy and the other in reality, it manages to sustain an otherworldly feeling even while grounded in the modern-day Paris of klaxons, tradesmen, and class consciousness. The supporting cast is phenomenal, with Myrna Loy as a man-hungry countess, C. Aubrey Smith doing his old-codger thing, Charles Butterworth priceless as a mild-mannered nobleman ("I fell flat on my flute!"), and Blanche Frederici, Ethel Griffies, and Elizabeth Patterson as a benign version of the Macbeth witches' trio.
All are wonderful, but the real muscle belongs to the director and the songwriters. Mamoulian's camera has a rhythm of its own and many tricks up its lens: note the fox-hunt sequence suddenly going into slow-motion; the Expressionist shadowplay in Chevalier's "Poor Apache" specialty; the sudden cuts in the "Sonofagun is Nothing But a Tailor" production number. As for the Rodgers and Hart score, it's simply the best they ever wrote for a film -- maybe the best anybody wrote for a film. The songs are unforgettable in themselves -- "Isn't It Romantic?", "Mimi," "Lover," etc. -- but, and here is where genius enters, they're superbly integrated and magnificently thought out. Note the famous "Isn't It Romantic" sequences, the camera roaming effortlessly through countless verses from tailor shop to taxi to field to gypsy camp to castle, finally linking the two leads subliminally, though their characters have never met. "A musical," Mamoulian once said, "must float." This sequence may float higher than any other in any musical.
Best of all, you can sense the unbridled enthusiasm the authors must have had for this project: Rodgers and Hart seem positively giddy with the possibilities of cinema, eager to defy time, place, and reason as was never possible for them onstage. What a pity that this magnificent movie isn't available on video, so that future generations can't easily rediscover its brilliance.
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