Wednesday, November 9, 2011

1929/30 - The Love Parade

Last Friday, I finally got around to redeeming a gift certificate that my darling wife had given me for my birthday in February. Yes, I am the king of procrastination. The gift certificate entitled me to a full body massage at a local spa, which, through no fault of the massage therapist, turned out to be an entire hour of cringing discomfort. To be fair, that's essentially how I've felt every time I've received a professional massage. It's not that I'm prudish. Oddly, lying almost naked while a stranger rubs his hands all over me doesn't really bother me. It's the pain that bothers me. The digging, the pinching, the grinding - all actions I'd rather not experience. You might ask, "Well, Matt, why don't you just ask the massage therapist to give you a softer massage?" Well, that would involve confrontation, silly. Instead, I just lie there with my face, hidden from my tormentor's view, scrunched in near agony. And when it's not unbearably painful, it's unbearably ticklish. For some reason, the backs of my knees are unusually sensitive. But, again, rather than risk the inevitable embarrassment of flinching when his hands tickle my knee-backs, I concentrate with every fibre of my being to remain uncomfortably still. The entire experience is, in a nutshell, full of tension, both physically and metaphorically, which is surely the exact opposite of the intended result. I am possibly the only person on the planet who requires some relaxation after a massage.

Kicking off our look at the Best Picture contest of 1929/30 is...

The Love Parade
Ernst Lubitsch
Guy Bolton and Ernest Vajda
(based on the play "The Prince Consort" by Jules Chancel and Leon Xanrof)
Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette McDonald, Lupino Lane, Lillian Roth, Eugene Pallette, E.H. Calvert, Edgar Norton, Lionel Belmore
Academy Awards:
6 nominations
0 wins

Paris - the most romantic city in the world. Perfectly suited to the philandering lifestyle of Count Alfred Renard (Chevalier), the military attaché to the Sylvanian Embassy. His womanising exploits cause much scandal, however, eventually boiling over when he is caught in a romantic encounter with the Ambassador's wife. He is sent back to Sylvania to answer to Queen Louise (McDonald), who is conveniently unable to find a suitable husband for herself, mostly because no man desires to live in deference to her. Alfred and Louise quickly fall for each other, but making a royal marriage work proves difficult for the former Casanova, especially as he is given little respect and no power.

There are several genuinely funny moments in The Love Parade, beginning with a chuckle-worthy opening scene involving a fake suicide. The rest of the film features some great visual gags (an entire military squadron ordered to tiptoe as they march so they don't wake the Queen) and even some clever wordplay (Alfred's ludicrous explanation of why he has a French accent). Thus, as a comedy, The Love Parade succeeds quite well. As a musical, however, not so much.

Even taking into account the fact that the musical film genre had not quite perfected itself yet, there is something unsatisfying about most of the musical numbers. The lyrics are almost at the level of a Gershwin or a Berlin, but the music is bland and not at all catchy. Plus, the static visual style in which the songs are presented is a missed opportunity. I understand that, at a time when talking pictures were still a novelty, simply hearing people sing on film must have seemed interesting enough, but in this case, the audience might as well have been listening to a gramophone. It is perhaps not surprising to learn that this film is director Ernst Lubitsch's first foray into sound. The only exception to all this musical drabness is the number Let's Be Common, which features the humorous acrobatics of an energetic Lupino Lane.

Maurice Chevalier (pictured) exudes a boyish charm that is hard to dislike and his comic talents are finely displayed, earning him a Best Actor nomination. Jeanette McDonald is surprisingly natural in her debut film, after several years in the theatre. Here, she is provided with the opportunity to showcase what an amazing set of pipes she has. Also of note is Lupino Lane, who is as funny as he is agile.

All in all, The Love Parade is a relatively simple story that, despite some slow points, is worth viewing. If you can get past the flat musicality and the questionably chauvinistic resolution, you will more than likely find plenty to make you laugh.

1 comment:

  1. Besides being Ernst Lubitsch's first talking picture, it was the first musical to use songs that stemmed from the narrative rather than set as a separate musical review. Soon this would be the standard structure for musicals and last over forty years until Cabaret reverted back to the review style of separation. Of course, if the songs were undistinguished, the movie would grind to a halt. As you say, The Love Parade's soundtrack was more miss than hit.

    Lubitsch in this pre-code era, takes full advantage of its allowances on sly innuendo. One could interpret lothario Maurice Chevalier's "Nobody's Using it Now" as a lament to the inactivity of one of his favorite body parts :)

    When the Sylvanian Ambassador reports on Count Renard's lineage: "His Grandfather was the illegitimate son of one king and his grandmother the sweetheart of another," the impressed Minister of War (Eugene Pallette) responds, "I had no idea that he came from such a distinguished family."

    All in all, a pleasant musical romance mixed with political satire, that Lubitsch would hone to better results later on with "Ninotchka" and "To Be or Not to Be."