The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

Passed   |    |  Comedy, Romance, Musical

The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) Poster

An amorous lieutenant is forced to marry a socially awkward princess, though he tries to keep his violin-playing girlfriend on the side.

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  • Claudette Colbert and Maurice Chevalier in The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
  • The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
  • The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
  • The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
  • Claudette Colbert and Maurice Chevalier in The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
  • The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

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Reviews & Commentary

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User Reviews

18 December 2012 | chaos-rampant
Cinematic jazz lingerie
I am grateful for Lubitsch. I always am when I watch a good film, but the feeling is somehow of a different magnitude when the encounter suggests a consistently bright and sensitive soul. He must have been having a blast composing these things, sculpting the contours of little jokes, rubbing as frivolously as he could against the edges of sexual protocol. Much has been made of his Touch, though it seems an elusive thing: reading up on various critics' proposed theories of it, you couldn't get two to agree—even his collaborator Billy Wilder, when interviewed about it, seems a bit mystified. I have my own notion that I'm working on, but hashing that out is in the future.

Yes, you will have a great time with this, quite possibly the raunchier of all the precode musicals I have been visiting as of late. The farce is about finding a million small ways to suggest sex, some of them bawdy, usually elegant—breakfast as sex talk, a bugle's rousing ra-tat-tat as arousal, 'Jazz up your Lingerie', and the baffling scene that closes this, where the virginal princess, instructed on seduction by her sexual rival, transforms into a wild flapper—smoking, banging a jazz tune at the piano—to get the capricious lothario she lusts after into bed, all this amounting more or less to the happy end of a successful romance.

One more thing. The engine that drives this cinematic world into motion, I'm sure most viewers would not think twice of it, but I'm in the habit of noting interesting cases. In this case, I believe (though it is too early to tell) it exemplifies on the deepest level the whole cosmology of Lubitsch.

On a first level, it is simple enough; a misunderstood smile.

As the misunderstanding is the most commonplace trope, this isn't particularly useful or revealing. This is what happens a little later though. The dashing lieutenant is instructed—as per the emperor's wishes —not to propose, not even speak to the smitten princess.

This is presented by the adjutant who makes the case not as a cut-and- dry decision, but as the product of much political deliberation and digress, itself an impish joke on imperial etiquette. So far so good.

In the following scene, however, he receives a congratulatory phonecall on his marriage. And in yet the next scene, he is officially congratulated in person by the emperor, the same one who forbade him to propose.

Yes, we can reason that somewhere along the line, for whatever reasons, the decision was reverted, that is beside the point. The point is that lesser filmmakers would explain. And yet it makes sense seemingly illogical as we have it.

So how about this for a blueprint? Improvisation and whimsical digress, and in the quantum level of narrative, you have spontaneous uncertainty, which is the most universal of attributes. And in the world of the film, this is going to have far-reaching imports, like deciding the course of empires.

Something to meditate upon.

Critic Reviews

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Plot Summary


Comedy | Romance | Musical

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