Paris, Hollywood, not Paris, France, the perfect setting for Ernst Lubitsch's comedy of pretense. An Arabian Nights melodrama seems to be afoot, the camera pans laterally to reveal a Jazz Age boudoir decorated for a rehearsal of "The Dance of the Forbidden Suit," set to a pianist's accompaniment -- Valentino's Sheik, and Lubitsch's from his UFA historical epics. The costumed performers are a married couple, George Beranger and Lilyan Tashman, their future seems shaky when he fails to sweep her off her feet at the performance's climax and she brings him some milk to build his strength. Patsy Ruth Miller spots the shirtless Beranger from her window across the street and is first indignant ("He might at least wear a hat!") and then aroused; her husband (Monte Blue) takes her temperature and marches over to their house to complain, only to find an ex-flame in Tashman's mock-odalisque. The groundwork for the paralleling affairs thus delicately set, the director is free to fuse them with sculptured gags which gradually snowball significance, like the cane which Blue accidentally leaves at the neighbors' home and becomes not just an excuse for Beranger to pay Miller a private visit, but also the phallic tell-tale object tapping its owner's nose during a dream before being swallowed whole. Blue's rendezvous leads to a spat with a policeman, he tells Miller he's on his way to his three-day jail sentence decked in top hat and tails when he's actually off to the annual Artists' Ball with Tashman -- Lubitsch is already there with a vast profusion of champagne bottles and wiggling angles, outdoing Abel Gance for prismatic virtuosity and giving the Roaring Twenties their definitive visualization. Miller joins the soirée after the couple's victory at the Charleston contest is announced, the soused boulevadier is befuddled when escorted home ("I've been here before") and outraged once his irate wife's disguise is removed ("What do you mean coming in at this hour!?"). The foundation of bourgeois marriage is slyly exposed over breakfast ("Fair weather when good liars get together"), clarifying above all Chabrol's declaration of Lubitsch over Hitchcock as his spiritual linchpin. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce