Friday, February 01, 2008

Mass of Money, Linen, Silk, and Starch

Monte Carlo (1930)
directed by Ernst Lubitsch
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from the vaults

Famous at the time because Lubitsch synced songs to the motions of a train - a first, apparently, in musicals - although, to my mind, the better legacy is the film's decidedly Western ideal of starting anew by leaving. In 1930, poor Americans were surely attracted to the fantastic unearned opulence of landed royalty much more than the romantic dalliances that buoyed productions like Monte Carlo. Choices are never made between a rich suitor and a penniless one; both prospects come stuffed with money, although Monte Carlo at least allows the heroine to make up her heart before she knows that for sure.

But for all the intentional remove of fake European kingdoms of gentle mile-wide staircases from all-too-real Depression-era hard times (and to some degree, old-world romance was the director's artistic heritage), Lubitsch's use of trains and travel is as much a precursor to Frank Tashlin's blonde-headed highways as it is to Trouble in Paradise. The independent women in these musicals could qualify as Jazz Age Zeldas if they weren't so mercilessly punished for their freedoms (see Prince Otto's "You'll Love Me and Like It"), but the escape clause by which some regeneration transpires is nothing if not a new American day.

Did I forget to mention it's sweet and very funny? Sometimes the insouciance of the pre-Hays era seems a little overrated, but try to get George Clooney to deliver a note like Count Rudolph Falliere's: "Dear Countess, please pardon me for sending these flowers so late, but I had to get the little flower girl out of bed first." As easy as it is to picture the Maurice Chevalier of The Love Parade flaunting a back-handed gift like that, here the Count plays it straight as an arrow.