The challenge is to bring sound (more than that, music) to the image amid congealed talkies. Ernst Lubitsch has the congruency down by the time he reaches Maurice Chevalier's tale of French accents and doctors' wives (the murmured punchline is framed from the other side of the window), but that's getting ahead of a hundred blooms of invention. The opening is a boulevardier's burlesque of creaky infidelity melodrama, with a prop gun playing its part in the pantomime of death and resurrection; banished back to his native Sylvania, the lothario goes to the balcony to bid his inamoratas adieu ("Oh Paris, please stay the same"), his valet (Lupino Lane) seconds the tune from his window, their pooch also gives it a go. The Queen (Jeanette MacDonald) rises from bed after luxuriating in the lilt of an erotic reverie ("Dream lover, fold your arms around me..."), and only comes back down once reminded of the need for marriage, the highest concern of the kingdom's cabinet. Chevalier is summoned to her chamber, MacDonald reads about his lascivious escapades with a disapproving scowl but then excuses herself to eagerly fix her makeup. Seduction to Lubitsch is the medium's great spectacle, so the Queen's date with the exiled rascal is projected onto the audience in the sidelines (ministers, servants, voyeurs) as it moves from dining room to boudoir. "If it is like this at first, what can we save for later," she asks. "Plenty" is the quietly ardent reply. A shame, then, that, after the great gag of the lover having to live up to four hundred celebratory canons in his honeymoon, the plot succumbs to a man-teaching-wife-who's-the-boss arc. But then again, Lubitsch's films, like Hitchcock's, are contraptions that often threaten to strangulate the characters -- love struggles to survive dwarfing rooms, marble floors lined with soldiers, uniforms that become straitjackets. When MacDonald sits paralyzed at her gala box, the pratfalls of plebeian clowns (Lane and Lillian Roth) blessed with the freedom of being "common" ring even sweeter. With Eugene Pallette, and Lionel Belmore. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce