27 January 2009 | lugonian
Trouble in Paradise
HER MAJESTY, LOVE (First National, 1931), directed by William Dieterle, is a romantic comedy (with music) starring Broadway legend Marilyn Miller (1898-1936) in her third and final motion picture. With the support by such comic legends as W.C. Fields and Leon Errol of the Ziegfeld Follies with some silent motion pictures to their name, and silent screen veterans Ford Sterling and Chester Conklin, one might have expected a hilarious comedy with a slapstick cut to the chase finish, but instead, a weak attempt duplicating the sophisticated style of Paramount's own director Ernst Lubitsch. Dieterle, like Lubitsch, Europeans by birth, may not have had the Lubitsch touch nor the grace and charm of popular stars as Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald to carry the story, but does provide this American production with European flair substituting the traditional fade-outs with immediate dissolves, the most notable being the scattering of papers thrown in the air becoming flying pigeons scattering about in Venice. For Marilyn Miller, a Ziegfeld Follies girl who rose to fame singing and dancing in Broadway hits and early screen appearances of SALLY (1929) and SUNNY (1930), this time acquiring an original screenplay based on an old German silent where her singing and dancing are limited, leaving much of the vocalizing to the uncredited Donald Novis, and limited ballroom dancing with her leading man, Ben Lyon.
The simple plot focuses on Lia Toerrek (Marilyn Miller), a charming blonde Hungarian girl attending bar in Germany's Berlin Cabaret. Because no man is able to get her to dance with them, Fred (Ben Lyon), a wealthy businessman for the family owned Von Wellingen Ball Bearing Foundary, makes a wager with friends that he'll make a hit with the girl, which he does. Immediately attracted to one another, they become engaged on the second meeting, which doesn't rest well with Fred's snobbish family, particularly his business-oriented brother, Otmar (Ford Sterling), who much prefers he marry a rich girl instead. During the engagement party, both families are gathered together, with Lia's father, Bela (W.C. Fields), a former vaudevillian now a barber, disturbs the cultured class by getting drunk and juggling dinner plates and fruit. Finding the Toerreks not of their social class, Otmar has Fred sign an agreement that promises him promotion as general manager if he calls off his engagement with Lia. When Lia learns of this, she arrives at the next dinner party uninvited to tell Fred and his family where they can go. During Fred's venture in Venice to forget his troubles, Lia accepts the proposal from Baron Von Schwarzdorf (Leon Errol), a millionaire playboy married and divorced six times, much to Toerrek's delight but dismay for Lia, who's unable to forget about her majesty love.
HER MAJESTY, LOVE shows great promise during its opening minutes in the cabaret where patrons are seen popping balloons, singing and dancing, as Lia looks cheerfully on, but once the gaiety stops and plot development begins, the story dulls itself with talk, slow pacing and lack of underscoring to set the mood. The songs are satisfactory, though not as legendary as those composed for Miller by Jerome Kern. With music and lyrics by Walter Jurmann and Al Dubin, songs include: "You're Busy Minded Now" (recited by Leon Errol, sung by Marilyn Miller); "Because of You" (introduced by Ben Lyon, sung by Donald Novis); "Don't Ever Be Blue," (sung by Novis); "Because of You" (sung by Miller); "Though You're Not the First Wine" (sung by Novis, ballroom dance by Miller and Lyon) and "Though You're Not the First Wine" (reprise by Novis).
As a featured showcase for Marilyn Miller and Ben Lyon, HER MAJESTY, LOVE offers third billed W.C. Fields little opportunity to either be funny or perform in the true Fields manner. For his first feature film since 1928, and sole venture at Warners/ First National Studios, he arrives 23 minutes into the 74 minute production sporting a mustache (for the final time on screen) and glasses, with an attempt speaking with a German accent, which he soon loses as the film progresses. His character is basically straight, unlike others of familiarity. The engagement party sequences draws attention where Fields becomes traditional Fields, uncouth among the snobbish rich (a similar scene that was improved with his leading 1939 Universal comedy, YOU CAN'T CHEAT AN HONEST MAN), juggling plates and fruit at the dinner table, and reciting his most famous catch phrases, "Think nothing of it" and "Nothing, really." His brief scenes opposite Leon Errol offer nothing in true essence of comedy highlights. Chester Conklin, in German style haircut, has even little to do as well. Overlooking that and accepting this as a formula romantic story with American actors being more American than European, HER MAJESTY, LOVE should be satisfactory.
Other members of the cast consists of future candidates in Fields future film-comedies as Clarence Wilson (Cousin Cornelius) and Maude Eburne (Aunt Hattie), and Irving Bacon as a valet cheated out of his tip by Fields.
Of the three Marilyn Miller screen musicals, only HER MAJESTY, LOVE was distributed to commercial television, notably on Philadelphia's own WPHL, Channel 17, the home of the Warner Brothers film library prior to 1975. In later years HER MAJESTY, LOVE turned on Ted Turner's cable stations as Turner Network Television (1989) and Turner Classic Movies after its 1994 premiere. With SALLY and SUNNY added to its lineup, TCM became the place for film buffs and historians to get to see and study the complete filmography of Marilyn Miller. (**)