Starring Jeanette MacDonald, Maurice Chevalier, Myrna Loy, and Charlie Ruggles
Directed by Rouben Mamoulien
Music by Richard Rodgers; Lyrics by Lorenz Hart
After I reviewed the tragic romance Carmen Jones for Valentine's Day last year, I figured this year's entry called for something much lighter. Rouben Mamoulien's frothy romantic comedy about a princess who falls for a tailor is considered by many critics to be one of the finest musicals of the 30's, if not of all time. Does it deserve those accolades? Let's begin the morning in Paris with the tailor Maurice (Chevalier) and the rhythmic sounds of the city and find out...
The Story: Maurice (Chevalier), tailor from Paris, travels to a country chateau to collect outstanding debts from the Viacomte de Vareze (Ruggles) for tailoring work. On the way, he passes the lovely Princess Jeanette (MacDonald), the Viacomte's niece. Jeanette is a young widow who only lives with her family because there are no eligible men of her station and rank her age in the area. He falls for her the moment he almost knocks her off the road, but she's not nearly so interested in him.
She's a lot more intrigued when the Viacomte claims he's a baron and a friend of his. Now the whole household is beholden to his charms, including the head of the family Duc d'Artelines (C. Aubrey Smith), man-crazy Valentine (Loy), and three aunts who spent most of the movie working on a tapestry. He rescues a fox from a hunt, winning over even Jeanette with his boyish ways. She's not as happy when she finally learns who he really is...but when she realizes how she feels, no matter who he is, she discovers that a modern princess can make her own happy ending.
The Song and Dance: Every book I've read about movie musicals praised this to the skies, calling it one of the best and most cinematic musicals ever made. For once, they were entirely right. Mamoulien sought to break out of the mold of static early musicals by bringing the songs off the stage and into real life. Everything makes music in the opening "The Song of Paree" sequence, taking us from the sounds of the city to Maurice's shop. "There's career-best performances from just about everyone, including Maurice and Jeanette as the lovers; Loy is a riot as Valentine, who is desperate for any kind of male companionship that isn't her family. Rodgers and Hart's songs are probably their best work in Hollywood. "Lover" and "Love Me Tonight" in particular can be heard in the background of many a Paramount movie to this day.
Favorite Number: Every number in this movie is a delight, but "Isn't It Romantic" is a major stand-out. It starts out with Maurice singing about his idea of love in his shop...and we follow the song as it carries from the city to a train to soldiers to the country and Jeanette, who gives a much more traditionally romantic view. It's one of the most exhilarating use of editing in any film musical. Chevalier has a blast with his patter number "Mimi" at the party...and it's just as cute to see various members of the family sing it afterwards in their own way. MacDonald and Chevalier duet on the lovely title song in the garden during the party, and Maurice is sent away to a montage of servants and aristocrats alike whispering that "The Son of a Gun Is Nothing But a Tailor."
Trivia: Censors cut several bits after the movie was re-released in the mid-30's. Among the losses were a few ribald comments from Valentine, Loy's rendition of "Mimi" (supposedly, her breast could be seen through her sheer nightgown) with the rest of the family, and the doctor's number as he examines Jeanette, "A Woman Needs Something Like That." Alas, a full, uncut version of the film has yet to be found.
What I Don't Like: Obviously, if you're not a fan of frothy romantic comedy or the two stars, this won't be your glass of French champagne. It's also not for dance nuts. Here, the cameras and editing do the dancing.
The Big Finale: If any movie musical deserves to be better-known, it's this one. If you love romantic comedy, the two stars, or Mamoulien's other work, you owe to yourself to check this one out.
Home Media: While the movie is currently available through the made-to-order Universal Vault collection, the original Kino International DVD I have is neither expensive, nor difficult to find.
DVD - Universal Vault
DVD - Kino International