The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) Poster

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More sex per minute ...
ilprofessore-17 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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Sublime, and almost immoral.
David-24028 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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Awesomely immoral, one of Lubitsch's finest musicals
Kalaman31 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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A Cinematic Vienna Torte
Ron Oliver24 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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Sexy, effervescent comedy
MissSimonetta7 February 2016
Nowadays, could we even make a comedy this sexually-tinged without tipping into sheer raunchiness? What a lovely film! It took me several films before I finally appreciated Lubitsch and out of what I have seen, The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) has quickly surpassed the also excellent To Be or Not (1942) to Be as my favorite. It has a delightful cast, especially Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins as the women who find themselves drawn to Maurice Chevalier's lusty lieutenant. The script is witty, sexy, and full of the joy of youth and sensual love. You feel giddy despite yourself while watching it. If the film has a flaw, then it's that some of the musical numbers are a touch forgettable, but Colbert's wonderful "Jazz Up Your Lingerie" more than makes up for that!

And the appeal isn't limited to pre-code geeks like me. Even my dad, who generally sticks to post-1980s spy thrillers and avoids black and white movies like the plague, could not leave the living room until the movie was finished. He was laughing with, not at, this eighty plus year old film. That's how powerful the Lubitch magic is. Don't miss out!
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Wonderful fun and good advice: Jazz up your lingerie
Terrell-48 April 2008
Warning: 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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"Glamour in the grapefruit"
Steffi_P26 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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Charming Lubitsch Frolic
fsilva22 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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Delightful confection
jaykay-1023 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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Ra-Ta-Ta-Ta-Ta !toujours l'amour...
elisedfr30 August 2008
Warning: 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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Lubitsch's magic
jotix10027 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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Claudette Colbert and a little bit of pre-Code naughtiness makes this one good
gbill-748771 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I'll be honest, Claudette Colbert is very cute and she made this movie for me. The plot has a somewhat dippy Maurice Chevalier marrying a Princess (Miriam Hopkins) to avoid an international incident, thus breaking his lover's (Colbert's) heart. When she arranges to meet up with him anyway, she's caught by Hopkins, and after a mutual, (hilariously overwrought) cry, she tells Hopkins (in song) that in order to keep Chevalier, "Jazz Up Your Lingerie". The movie is pre-Code which made scenes like that possible, as well as allude to unmarried sex between Colbert and Chevalier, and Hopkins's desire to consummate her marriage. This naughtiness is also part of the movie's charm. It's interesting that the movie wrong-foots us by having the 'wrong girl' get the man. A big hit in 1931 and nominated by the Academy for Best Picture, it's still very watchable 85 years later.
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object lesson in the art of filmmaking
mukava99127 October 2014
There is little to add to the praise this classic film has already received from professional and amateur critics and viewers. It is an object lesson in the art of filmmaking, cleverly conceived and plotted, gorgeously photographed, well acted by a colorful cast, constantly fresh and joyous, inventive and artful. The dialogue is brilliant, especially when it blossoms with playful double entendres. The mise-en-scene is filled with the engaging formalities so beloved by its director Ernst Lubitsch, and visual cues giving wordless information about plot and character. The contrast between the females, Miriam Hopkins and Claudette Colbert, is deftly arranged. Though Chevalier has charm to burn, his thick French accent does occasionally blunt the effect of the dialogue. But his light comedy skills are otherwise formidable and in conjunction with Lubitsch's staging and framing add up to cinematic magic. Colbert equals and even surpasses him with her own skill and charm. She gives particular oomph to her songs, acting them fully. Hopkins can be a grating performer but here tones it down. Her piano playing is impressive, whether it's real or not.
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An Intercepted Wink
bkoganbing20 August 2009
It must have been that the movie-going public loved seeing Maurice Chevalier in those tight uniforms, he seemed to be in them in most of those early talkies he made for American studios. Only now and again would Chevalier play something as prosaic as a tailor.

He's a guardsman again in The Smiling Lieutenant. But with the Austrian Empire at peace all the men have a lot of idle time on their hands. Maurice is busy planning his latest campaign when a friend played by Charlie Ruggles asks him with that Chevalier charm to intercede for him with a female violinist in Claudette Colbert.

Maurice does, but the sly rogue gets her for himself. And then he's put on duty to greet the visiting royal house of Flausenthurm which includes King George Barbier and Princess Miriam Hopkins.

In one of those priceless Ernst Lubitsch moments, Chevalier while at attention spots Colbert across the street and throws a few knowing smiles and winks. But when the coach carrying Barbier and Hopkins passes, Hopkins intercepts one of those winks and considers it an uncalled for act upon a royal personage.

In fact she likes what she sees and persuades Daddy to get the Emperor who's her uncle to part with Chevalier. Of course Maurice the old campaigner likes the idea of being married to the dowdy Hopkins if he's got Claudette on the side.

I won't go any farther, but as you can see just by what I tell you The Smiling Lieutenant is a film made before the Code was put in place. In fact the naughtiness of films like these is what got Hollywood the Code. But it's what also makes it hold up very well for today's audience.

No big song hits come from The Smiling Lieutenant, but Chevalier delivers what's there with his Gallic charm. Even Hopkins and Colbert grab a chorus or two with Maurice. Music is by Oscar Straus with English lyrics by Clifford Grey.

This is before the Code so you have some freedom as to how this film will end, the parameters the Code put in place are no longer there. I should say however that Miriam Hopkins gets a makeover that Paul Venoit and his team would envy.
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Jazz up your lingerie!
zetes18 February 2008
Among some movie buffs, there is a line of thought about Gene Kelly that he comes off as an unlikeable and smug jerk. Those people have never seen a film starring Maurice Chevalier. Kelly might stalk you until you fall for him, and a little more creepily than Fred Astaire would, but at least you know he'd probably stick around afterward. Chevalier, not so much. Behind that gigantic smile lies a snake. His thick French accent may have been sexy back in the day, but hearing it now just ups his jerk percentage higher and higher. Honestly, though, I love the guy. He's such a goofy character. He may be a cad, but he's an entertaining one. I shake my head at how naughty he is, but always with a grin on my lips. Chevalier is at his most delightfully awful in The Smiling Lieutenant, playing a philandering Viennese officer currently courting violinist Claudette Colbert. During a ceremony honoring royalty visiting from postage stamp-sized Flausenthurm, Chevalier smiles, laughs and winks at Colbert. The princess of Flausenthurm (Miriam Hopkins) catches it, thinks its for her, and demands that something be done about it. Queue the shotgun wedding, and Maurice is in hot water, now wedded to a wet blanket and in love with a hot tomato. The movie is pretty raunchy by 1931 standards. Unsurprisingly, the film was considered lost for many years. I'm sure the Hayes Code enforcers would have been quite happy with burning every print. There's a ton of sex being had by the characters, and there's a whole song dedicated to women's underwear. Seriously. Claudette Colbert teaches Miriam Hopkins about modern fashions in "Jazz Up Your Lingerie", easily the best number in the film and, in my mind, one of the weirdest and most entertaining in cinema history. I'd have to do some extensive looking into all the musicals I've ever seen, but I'd estimate that this is top five material. Hopkins completely steals the movie. The liner notes in the Eclipse Lubitsch Musicals set claims that it is her first film, but IMDb lists at least one earlier feature. The plot is very silly; one wouldn't imagine that it could contain any real emotion. But I actually did feel for Hopkins after Chevalier refused to sleep with her on their wedding night. This is where you can't help but hate Maurice. I also liked George Barbier, who plays Hopkins' father. And one of my favorite character actors, Charles Ruggles, appears very briefly at the beginning.
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The key to Wong back your husband is through his mistress!
mark.waltz17 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
An army lieutenant (Maurice Chevalier) finds love in two completely different places-a cabaret and the palace. In this fictional European country (with a funny name that the country folk can't even pronounce!), the king's daughter (Miriam Hopkins) falls in love with the King's bodyguard (Chevalier), unaware that he is very much in love with the violin player (Claudette Colbert) of a popular girl's orchestra. But when you're the princess, you can get what you want, and she pleads with papa to get permission from the Holy Roman Emperor to marry the lieutenant, whether he likes it or not.

"Hi, Emp!", the King gleefully says to the Big Man of Europe (after the pope...), getting permission, and stunning Chevaliere into silence and Colbert into tears. But this edict won't make Chevalier consummate the wedding night, so Hopkinsfinds herself playing checkers with papa after Chevalier tells her that you never wink at a husband, only a lover or mistress. "Schnitzel to you!", he adds to the king, heading right back to Colbert.

This is motion picture operetta at its best with a pleasant musical score, rhythmic dialog, and enough sexual innuendo to fill up legal documents by the volumes had it been made after the code. Paramount filled several movies with fictional European countries, so when Groucho Marx became dictator of Fredonia in 1933's "Duck Soup", he had a lot of material to spoof. Hopkins transforms from an impish brat into sexy vamp, getting rid of those Princess Leia like rolls on the side of her head when Colbert (in her second film with Chevalier) is charmingly alluring. And when Colbert get together to sing a duet about lingerie, it turns into magical movie heaven.
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Movie Odyssey Review #104: The Smiling Lieutenant
Cyke21 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
104: The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) - released 8/1/1931, viewed 7/2/08.

DOUG: For his follow-up to the dreary Monte Carlo, Lubitsch gathered three of his most reliable muses, Maurice Chevalier, Miriam Hopkins, and Claudette Colbert, all in one movie. The territory is very familiar: Chevalier plays the titular Lt. Niki, ANOTHER charming, straw-hat wearing military man who catches the eye of ANOTHER naïve princess from ANOTHER fictional country. Colbert plays Franzi, Niki's spunky violinist girlfriend, and Miriam Hopkins plays the princess, endearingly sexually repressed and prone to crying spells. It's not a terribly dramatic plot, even by the standards of a romantic comedy. Especially charming are the scenes between Franzi and Anna, particularly the racy musical number "Jazz up your Lingerie." (That can't be Code approved.) As in the best Lubitsch fare, everyone's that unique brand of crazy that's endearingly charming and sexy and funny. Right along with Trouble in Paradise, this is one of Lubitsch's best, and one of the great Pre-code comedy-musicals.

KEVIN: And now we flash back to the first meeting of Ernst Lubitsch with the beautiful bag of wonderfulness called Miriam Hopkins. Lubitsch again teams with Maurice Chevalier (as the titular lieutenant), and also brings in Claudette Colbert, who's never looked lovelier as the titular lieutenant's initial love interest. Chevalier's character finds himself once again playing a high-ranking member of society who is suckered into an unhappy marriage to a royal. But this time, there's another woman thrown into the mix. Unfortunately the three leads are never all together in any major way, but the film climaxes when the two ladies finally confront each other, with unexpected consequences, including the film's most memorable jingle "Jazz Up Your Lingerie." And on a more aesthetic note, I suspect that this film has the least amount of dialogue of all the Lubitsch talkies I've seen. ***SPOILER*** The ending surprised me. I was sure all through the story that Chevalier would end up with Colbert, the one he really loved from the beginning, but the unexpected consequences of said final confrontation made this one more than a little fresh. Plus, it leads us to the image of Miriam Hopkins that we would come to love in later films. ***END SPOILER***.

Last film viewed: The Criminal Code (1931). Last film chronologically: M (1931). Next film viewed: Shanghai Express (1932). Next film chronologically: Monkey Business (1931).
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THE SMILING LIEUTENANT (Ernst Lubitsch, 1931) ***
Bunuel197615 February 2009
"The Lubitsch touch" was all the rage at the start of Hollywood's Talkie era, which is why musical trifles such as this one or the preceding THE LOVE PARADE (1929) – skilfully made and pleasantly risqué though they might be – ended up being major Academy Award contenders for a spell. In fact, the film under review got its sole Oscar nod for Best Picture – an achievement which would become virtually impossible in a decade's time. Popular Continental crooner Maurice Chevalier plays his typical role of a Viennese roué who steals the girl (an almost unrecognizably young Claudette Colbert appearing as a concert violinist) of his comrade-in-arms (Charles Ruggles, who unaccountably disappears from the film after the first few scenes!); standing guard at the ceremony of visiting royalty, he creates a diplomatic scandal for seemingly winking at the naïve princess (Miriam Hopkins) when in fact he had been making eyes at Colbert who was watching the parade from the sidelines! To make amends, he is forced to marry Hopkins but he is not about to be tied down to a life of luxurious boredom and slips out in the commoner's uniform of straw hat and tuxedo for a night on the town every chance he gets; in the meantime, the flustered King comforts his lonesome daughter by playing chess in her boudoir! Colbert and her bandmates give a recital in Chevalier's kingdom and she finds herself invited to the Palace…but it's Hopkins who summoned her – to seek advice on how to ignite Chevalier's passion! Curiously enough, Chevalier had been unusually loyal to Colbert instead of his usual roving self and it is only on the latter's advice (and her involvement in Hopkins' jazzy makeover) that he finally abides willingly to his marital duties. As is customary for Lubitsch, what is left unsaid is about as important as what is spelled out and THE SMILING LIEUTENANT provides the director several instances wherein to indulge his subtle wit: the very opening sequence showing a tailor, who had called at Chevalier's to demand payment, leaving when the door is unanswered while a girl is ushered inside soon afterwards by the accomplice-butler; the sequence showing Ruggles trailing behind Chevalier and Colbert and carrying her violin case; Colbert's indoctrination of the stuffy Hopkins into what the modern woman wears and which music she plays, etc.
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the gals win!
drednm15 February 2004
Maurice Chevalier is way too hammy in this pleasant comedy. Claudette Colbert shines as the bad girl with a violin. Colbert displays her usual breezy charm AND a nice singing voice. But it's Miriam Hopkins who steals the film as the dowdy princess turned jazz baby. Colbert and Hopkins sing a delightful "Jazz Up Your Lingerie" number which Hopkins reprises on the piano, replete with frizzed hair and cigarette dangling from her lips as she pounds out a snazzy-jazzy version of the song. Hilarious! Hopkins rarely got to show her comic side. She was also funny in Wise Girl. Smiling Lieutenant also has Charlie Ruggles, Elizabeth Patterson, and the delightful George Barbier as Hopkins' papa. Good fun. Watch it for Hopkins and Colbert!!!
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"Nobody can play the violin like you do!"
Spondonman15 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
…in other words his penis, is exclaimed at one point by Lieutenant Maurice Chevalier to a young Claudette Colbert with their love affair heating up. The sexual innuendo both uttered and shown in this Ernst Lubitsch pre Production Code picture is constant and delicious, resulting in a delightfully fey and elaborate but short eighty minutes following an admittedly batty plot and some note-lucky singing of a few rather dull tunes. Eyebrow-raising lyrics though! It's relentlessly charming with no scenes of a sexual, swearing or violent nature or anything remotely disgusting either; it's all in the mind – which is also worth bearing in mind is as Frank Zappa once sang, the ugliest part of the body.

Charlie Ruggles begins by telling his friend Chevalier he's in love with Colbert and then watching his friend swiftly woo and win her for successful and successive nights of passion and mornings of breakfast. Until the day Chevalier smiles at her while on duty but gets publicly misinterpreted instead as having smiled – and winked, meaning let's do it – at the King's plain daughter Miriam Hopkins. How it all turns out is slightly dissatisfying to me, but it was a difficult problem to resolve in a gentlemanly way without a Code to follow. Although I know that even with all the slyness on screen it would have the last thing on their minds in 1931 to portray, what a film it would have been if there had been a concluding Three-Way! The Paramount production values were enormous, the sets intricate and fascinating, the romantic atmosphere under the gleaming studio arc-lights palpable, the cast superb, the display of freshness of youth and optimism appealing and total, and the comparisons with Love Me Tonight, One Hour With You and even Trouble In Paradise justified. But imho it just wasn't as good as any of those masterpieces. There's a Lubitsch touch in here that can sum up the difference: at one point two pillows on a soon-to-be consummation of marriage bed are helpfully moved closer together but then one pillow is even more helpfully put on top of the other. Not offensive at all - but not very subtle either, and if coitus really was to follow the pillows would more than likely be in an awkward position. The Lubitsch Code of what all men want is sex then romance and what all women want is romance then sex was never more apparent than in this, and it depends upon your personal point of view whether you find that point of view charming, childish or irrelevant. And the suddenly worldly-wise Colbert nonchalantly waved at the suddenly renewed Hopkins over her shoulder without looking back and without a care so that made everything alright…

All that said it's an utterly wonderful film which as I've put for some other perceived-to-be ancient films will still be watched and/or puzzled over in many generations time, while all of today's realistic and amoralistic efforts are long forgotten.
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Cinematic jazz lingerie
chaos-rampant18 December 2012
I am grateful for Lubitsch. I always am when I watch a good film, but the feeling is somehow of a different magnitude when the encounter suggests a consistently bright and sensitive soul. He must have been having a blast composing these things, sculpting the contours of little jokes, rubbing as frivolously as he could against the edges of sexual protocol. Much has been made of his Touch, though it seems an elusive thing: reading up on various critics' proposed theories of it, you couldn't get two to agree—even his collaborator Billy Wilder, when interviewed about it, seems a bit mystified. I have my own notion that I'm working on, but hashing that out is in the future.

Yes, you will have a great time with this, quite possibly the raunchier of all the precode musicals I have been visiting as of late. The farce is about finding a million small ways to suggest sex, some of them bawdy, usually elegant—breakfast as sex talk, a bugle's rousing ra-tat-tat as arousal, 'Jazz up your Lingerie', and the baffling scene that closes this, where the virginal princess, instructed on seduction by her sexual rival, transforms into a wild flapper—smoking, banging a jazz tune at the piano—to get the capricious lothario she lusts after into bed, all this amounting more or less to the happy end of a successful romance.

One more thing. The engine that drives this cinematic world into motion, I'm sure most viewers would not think twice of it, but I'm in the habit of noting interesting cases. In this case, I believe (though it is too early to tell) it exemplifies on the deepest level the whole cosmology of Lubitsch.

On a first level, it is simple enough; a misunderstood smile.

As the misunderstanding is the most commonplace trope, this isn't particularly useful or revealing. This is what happens a little later though. The dashing lieutenant is instructed—as per the emperor's wishes —not to propose, not even speak to the smitten princess.

This is presented by the adjutant who makes the case not as a cut-and- dry decision, but as the product of much political deliberation and digress, itself an impish joke on imperial etiquette. So far so good.

In the following scene, however, he receives a congratulatory phonecall on his marriage. And in yet the next scene, he is officially congratulated in person by the emperor, the same one who forbade him to propose.

Yes, we can reason that somewhere along the line, for whatever reasons, the decision was reverted, that is beside the point. The point is that lesser filmmakers would explain. And yet it makes sense seemingly illogical as we have it.

So how about this for a blueprint? Improvisation and whimsical digress, and in the quantum level of narrative, you have spontaneous uncertainty, which is the most universal of attributes. And in the world of the film, this is going to have far-reaching imports, like deciding the course of empires.

Something to meditate upon.
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Delightful Discovery
mkawagoye-550-2588908 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
It was with pleasure that I watched this movie for the second time this year. Having been an early fan of C. Colbert from "The Sign of the Cross" and "Cleopatra", I was surprised to discover that she also had a better than average singing voice. The popular 'While Hearts Are Singing' is still a song I remember 80 years later. Considering the story line, it was singularly appropriate. Admittedly, O.Straus cannot be placed in the same class as J. Strauss nor R. Strauss but how many Mozarts and Beethovens are there? Hopefully other 'discoveries' will bring us forgotten gems such as this. Could there be a copy of Jan Kiepura's "Be Mine Tonight" out there somewhere?
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Very Very Naughty. . . .
Rhiannon The Great22 September 1999
As a student in a film class, I am very particular about narrative and style. The subtleness of the sexual connotations made in this film was what made it great. I was forced to use my imagination and interact with the characters--the fact that I didn't have to actually SEE what Lubitsch was "getting at" made it all the more enjoyable! So many films today cut right to the sex scenes, while this film alluded to sex just short of the characters going at it right on the screen, but this is also because of the code directors had to follow up until the 1960s. Nevertheless, it was the most entertaining farce I have seen in a long time--possibly ever. 4.5/5!!!
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The Lubitsch Wink
wes-connors13 December 2012
In old Vienna, lieutenant playboy Maurice Chevalier (as Nikolaus "Niki" von Preyn) woos cute violinist Claudette Colbert (as Franzi) into an affair. The lovers are deliriously happy, but not for long. When Mr. Chevalier makes flirty love-muffin faces at Ms. Colbert during a parade, relatively plain Miriam Hopkins (as Princess Anna) rides by in her carriage and catches him winking at her highness. Royal father George Barbier (as King Adolf XV) expects Chevalier to atone for the affront by taking Ms. Hopkins' hand in marriage...

This high-brow comedy-musical is very nicely produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. It placed third in the annual "New York Times" list and was one of eight 1931 pictures noticed by the folks giving out "Academy Awards" for excellence. The story starts out naughty but ends up nice. Hugh O'Connell (as Niki's orderly) and Charles Ruggles (as Max) lend funny supporting performances. The musical highlight is "Jazz up Your Lingerie" as sung by Colbert and Hopkins; after all these years, that's still good advice.

****** The Smiling Lieutenant (7/10/31) Ernst Lubitsch ~ Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert, Miriam Hopkins, George Barbier
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The French Lieutenant's Women
lugonian20 November 2003
THE SMILING LIEUTENANT (Paramount, 1931), directed by Ernst Lubitsch, adapted from "The Waltz Dream" by Leopold Jacobson and Felix Dormann, is a real sort-after re-discovery early screen musical starring the legendary entertainer and Frenchman, Maurice Chevalier. While successful upon its release and nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture, it was only, until in recent years that, unlike other Chevalier releases during his Paramount period (1929-1933), particularly those opposite his most popular co-star, Jeanette MacDonald, including THE LOVE PARADE (1929), ONE HOUR WITH YOU (1932) and LOVE ME TONIGHT (1932), THE SMILING LIEUTENANT never surfaced on commercial or public television. More than thirty or forty years ago, it was considered a lost film with no print known to exist. And upon its discovery, it has been hailed as one of the lesser of the Chevalier-Lubitsch collaborations. Premiering on February 26, 2003, on Turner Classic Movies, in actuality, this is not where THE SMILING LIEUTENANT was first introduced to cable television. Prior to that, it aired on a then new cable channel called OXYGEN in September 2001. Due to its handful of commercial interruptions in a two hour time slot, it was hard to concentrate and fully comprehend as well as appreciate this rarely seen find. However, thanks to the commercial free TCM, THE SMILING LIEUTENANT can be seen in its full 88 minutes of glory. Having it currently readily available today, this should rank as one of the most enjoyable of the raunchy, pre-code production-era films.

In true Lubitsch fashion and continental flair, the story is set in Vienna, Austria, where Chevalier has himself some female trouble. Returning to military uniform along with backdrop sets resembling that of his earlier musical classic, THE LOVE PARADE, Chavelier stars as Nicholas Von Preyn, lieutenant of the first imperial guard regiment, known to others as Niki. Upon arising from his sleep following an unseen fling with a young blonde, Niki is approached by his fellow officer friend named Max (Charles Ruggles), a married man (which really doesn't matter to him) who is madly in love with Franzi (Claudette Colbert), a female violinist and leader of an all girls band working at a Beer Garden Cafe. Because of his maritial status and desperately wanting to meet Franzi, he asks Niki to accompany him, and once he becomes acquainted with Franzi, Niki can "take a walk." But the plan backfires when Franzi ignores Max and allows herself to be escorted home by Niki. Love blossoms. Some time later, Niki and his regiment receive orders to attend the arrival of the visiting King Adolph (George Barbier) and his daughter, Princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins) from Flausenthurm. Across the street in the crowd is Franzi, smiling and winking her eye at the young lieutenant, and while the limousine carrying the guests of honor is parading by, the princess mistakes Niki's twinkling eye and alluring smile for her, which actually was intended for Franzi. At first Anna is insulted, thinking the lieutenant was simply laughing at her. The newspaper headlines soon reads, "Royalty Insulted." But upon meeting him, Anna and the King immediately become flattered by him, and seeing that Anna is falling in love with the lieutenant, her father arranges for them to be married. Summoned to the palace, the marriage proves to be anything but wedded bliss, and a fair game of chess is a far from what one would expect for a couple on their honeymoon. Because Anna appears dull and lacking in beauty, husband Niki soon finds himself "stepping out" to be with Franzi, but faces a dilemma as to which woman he would rather keep.

The supporting cast includes: Elizabeth Patterson appearing briefly as as Baroness Von Schwedel; Hugh O'Connell as Niki's Orderly; Janet Reade as Lily; and Granville Bates in a bit as a bill collector. Making his first of several screen appearances opposite Chevalier, Charlie Ruggles, in spite of his limited screen time near the beginning of the story, adds fine humor to his risqué of wit. Another memorable scene features the face slapping showdown between the plain but youthful Hopkins and the sophisticated Colbert, climaxed with a crying feast.

While labeled a musical, THE SMILING LIEUTENANT has its limitations of songs, by which plot takes preference over tunes. With music and lyrics by Oscar Struss and Clifford Grey, songs include: "That's the Army" (sung by Maurice Chevalier); "Live for Today" (sung by Claudette Colbert); "Breakfast Table Love" (sung by Chevalier and Colbert); "Live for Today"/"I Like Him" (compiled in separate scenes as sung by Chevalier and Colbert, and Miriam Hopkins); "Jazz Up Your Lingerie" (sung by Colbert and Hopkins); and "That's the Army" (reprise sung by Chevalier). In spite the songs being unmemorable, the two that come off best are "Live for Today," and the lively "Jazz Up Your Lingerie." What's more interesting is not only some of the risqué lyrics ("With every bit of liver I start to quiver"), but finding Colbert (telling Hopkins: "Be a good girl") and Hopkins (responding, "I won't!") in rare form singing. In Chevalier tradition, as in THE LOVE PARADE and ONE HOUR WITH YOU, his singing solos are sung directly towards the camera.

According to sources, THE SMILING LIEUTENANT, which had been previously filmed in Germany as EIN WALZERTRAUM (1925) with Mady Christians and Willy Fritzch, also included a French language version filmed simultaneously with this production, each featuring the main leads of Chevalier, Colbert and Hopkins.

For a 1931 release, THE SMILING LIEUTENANT, except for several violin solos performed by Colbert, includes extensive use of underscoring, indicating that early talkies such as this did not actually play without some sort of underscoring to set the mood or pace. But in spite of its present age and 1930s fashions, THE SMILING LIEUTENANT should still hold up quite well. (***)
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