The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

by Paul on September 30, 2012

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The Smiling Lieutenant is a 1931 romantic comedy musical directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Because it is a pre-code film, theThe Smiling Lieutenant sexuality is a major factor in the plot and within a couple of years movies like this would no longer be “appropriate” for the general audiences.

The plot concerns Lieutenant Preyn (Maurice Chevalier), who after a life of jumping from one woman’s bed to another, falls in love with a violin player named Franzi (Claudette Colbert). One afternoon while Lt. Preyn is standing at attention waiting for an arriving king and princess, he flashes a big smile at Franzi who is standing across the street. As the princess (Miriam Hopkins) rides past she thinks he is smiling (and laughing) at her. Her father calls Lt. Preyn to see him and he quickly learns that his only way out of trouble is to marry the princess who is obviously attracted to him.

The Smiling LieutenantOnce married, Lt. Preyn finds himself bored with his new wife. She isn’t the adventurous, free spirited girl that he is used too. He wanders the streets and one day comes across Franzi. They begin having an affair and soon the princess discovers what her new husband is up too. She must then decide what she can do (and what she is willing to do) to show her husband how important he is to her.

In the 1930’s, Ernst Lubitsch made some of the most sophisticated and hilarious movies ever made. He was able to combine great stories, witty dialogue, and a sexual frankness to his films that was unparalleled. Other directors tried to achieve this same style of movie, but few were as successful as Lubitsch.

The acting in The Smiling Lieutenant is fun and easy going. This seems like the kind of movie that everyone involved enjoyed filming. Maurice Chevalier spent his entire career singing andThe Smiling Lieutenant smiling, and he does both better than most. The songs are light, with clever lyrics that made me laugh and smile throughout the film. Claudette Colbert does some singing of her own, but her contributions to this film go far beyond her singing. Claudette’s character is the one we sympathize with the most. Miriam Hopkins is wonderful as always. At the start of the film she seems spoiled and frustrating, but after she stands up for herself and becomes willing to change herself to win her husband, she becomes inspirational.

With the induction of the Production Code, The Smiling Lieutenant quickly disappeared into obscurity. It was thought to be a lost film for The Smiling Lieutenantyears before a print was discovered in Denmark, in either the 1970’s or 1990’,s depending on what you are reading. No matter when it was discovered, thankfully we are able to enjoy this movie today, and surprisingly the quality is quite tremendous.

The Smiling Lieutenant was nominated for just one Academy Award, but it was a Best Picture Nominee. The same year Ernst Lubitsch had another movie (One Hour With You) that was also nominated for Best Picture. (Not a bad year.) Overall, I thoroughly loved the movie and am sure I will watch and enjoy it again many times.

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