For Reel

The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
February 5, 2016, 7:19 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Ernst Lubitsch
3.5 Stars
The Smiling LieutenantErnst Lubitsch, who made a career by poking jabs at aristocracy, delivers what might be his most condensed rebuttal against the traditions of old in The Smiling Lieutenant. In the climax, Princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins) confronts the woman (Claudette Colbert) that her new husband (Maurice Chevalier) has been having an affair with. Instead of a fiery battle between the two women, they treat each other with enormous compassion and respect–it’s an uncharacteristic moment of womanly bonding, showing a certain emotional maturity that Chevalier’s character is wrought as lacking (in fact, he’s often compared to a child). Colbert’s Franzi eventually gives up her connection with Chevalier while simultaneously giving Anna a lesson about what it is to live freely and with confidence. The resulting number, “Jazz Up Your Lingerie”, involves both actresses at their best, and aside from its mere pleasantries, marks a memorable transition between a Victorian sensibility and the new Jazz Age. Some critics have misinterpreted Anna’s transformation as a humiliation and a compromise, neglecting the fact that Anna has shown this passion previously–look no further than her glee when she discovers exactly what a wink means. The Smiling Lieutenant doesn’t rate alongside Lubitsch’s funniest pictures–in fact, it’s actually quite depressing, involving three sympathetic characters caught in a miserable situation–but its third act alone makes it worthwhile viewing. Additionally, although all the cast is on point, Hopkins is particularly terrific, her performance in the early part of the film never so stuffy that she loses a core sense of humanity.

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