15 August 2007 | rhoda-1
"Your soul is bigger than your pants"
A tale of a charming rogue directed by Ernst Lubitsch--but the great expectations aroused by that description are let down by casting (the un-roguish Don Ameche) and the demands of the period. In the Twenties and Thirties, Lubitsch directed some of the most exquisitely naughty movies ever made, full of Continental charm, in which the women are as clever and independent as the men. But this kind of material didn't suit the setting here, of Victorian America, or the stricter morals necessary after the adoption of the Production Code in 1934. Much of the wit is blunted, and its intrinsic cruelty is softened or denied. Gene Tierney winks so often at her husband's adultery it's a wonder she isn't cross-eyed. While earlier audiences could laugh and take this film at its own valuation, it is now difficult not to squirm at her humiliation--or wonder if her finding him endearing isn't a cover-up for her real motivation, his wealth and social position.
Another reviewer thinks the movie might have been improved by showing the husband's affairs rather than just alluding to them--they are very deliberately not shown because they would add an unwelcome note of reality. How sympathetic would the audience be after seeing Ameche kissing and fondling another woman, assuring her that he loves her, and that he doesn't care for his wife?
Despite all this, and despite the rather leaden pace, I emphatically recommend this movie. While it does not compare well with Lubitsch's earlier films, it is way above nearly every movie of today. There are plenty of neat jokes, in the art direction as well as the script, a deliciously sour performance from Charles Coburn as the story's one outspoken cynic, and an enchanting one from Signe Hasso as the ooh-la-la French maid. Pretending deep sympathy with the young man of the house, resentful at being kept in knickerbockers when he has the soul of an adult, she coos, with an irony he does not hear, "I understand--your soul is bigger than your pants." Which, in a way, sums up the movie.