THE SMILING LIEUTENANT-1931

Ra-ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta, ta-tahhhhh! WHEW!!! I need a cigarette. STAT!!!

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<—into the smorgasbord of sex and desire in classic cinema by bloggers all over the blogosphere. My contribution will be the Ernst Lubitsch 1931 film THE SMILING LIEUTENANT.”
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SMILING ( V )I first saw this movie at TCM’s 2015 Classic Film Festival this past March. It’s the pre-code era where folks slept in single beds (!!!) and there was a certain frankness to things. This whole movie, from soup-to- nuts, is an open unabashed love fest to sex, desire and love, with no shame and no guilt to muck up the fun. It’s a soufflé of sexy silly fun all whipped together. With songs and metaphors thrown in all over the place, you know “exactly” what they were getting at, getting on and getting into. This frothy, sexy farce drips with the Gallic charm of a very young Maurice Chevalier. Forget him in “Gigi” – an old man thanking heaven for little girls. ( Wha’?! ) You’ve got to see him as a young man; a randy lieutenant, whose smile and wink gets him into loads of trouble, both good and bad.

Imbued with the masterful Lubitsch Touch, the gossamer plot of “The Smiling Lieutenant” is stitched together with the sheerest threads. Chevalier is a Lieutenant in the King’s Guard. While on parade, he sends an ill-timed smile and wink across the courtyard to his lover, Claudette Colbert. Just as he does that, the King’s procession rides by and the princess
( Miriam Hopkins ) mistakenly thinks that wink is intended for her.

SMILING ( IV )  SMILING ( XI )

To say, Chevalier likes sex in this movie, would be an understatement. He rolls in it, swims in it, is satiated by it. When the movie opens, a smiling blonde cutie is leaving his apartment in the morning. Lubitsch takes us inside where Chevalier takes us into his confidence and jauntily sings a song about being a boudoir brigadier. He’s positively giddy. He mugs. He’s all over himself. Moments later, he’s visited by a fellow soldier
( Charlie Ruggles ) who is married but smitten and dying for a rendezvous with violin band leader Colbert. We have a married man openly lusting for someone other than his wife. The film doesn’t judge him. He just doesn’t get the girl.

SMILING  ( I )  SMILING ( II )

Chevalier steals Colbert right from under Ruggles. ( He never really stood a chance, did he? ) There’s a bit of haggling and negotiating between Chevalier and Colbert about her staying the night with him.

HE:   “Don’t make me wait twenty-four hours. I’m so hungry.”

SHE: “First tea. Then dinner. And then…maybe breakfast.”

Chevalier’s on top once negotiations’re complete.

SMILING ( III )

It’s breakfast time, and their cute little “morning after” song is fraught with metaphoric lyrics like: “You put the magic in the muffin.”   Ahhhh oui. Bon appétit. The audience looooved it.

SMILING ( XV )

Chevalier has to make it right with the King ( played so wonderfully jolly  by George Barbier ) and the Princess and explain himself to them. Lubitsch just digs the hole deeper for Chevalier. Chevalier wins over the Princess’ dour, middle-aged ladies-in-waiting by being able to spell the name of their country:
F-L-A-U-S-E-N-T-H-U-R-M.

 

SMILING ( XIII )   SMILING ( XIV )

 “What a speller.”

I’m telling you, Chevalier is just catnip to the ladies. He’s won them over. Pheromones waft through the Royal Palace. Hopkins is hooked, lined and sinkered in love ( or is that lust ) with Chevalier. There’s a cute cross-cutting scene between Hopkins extolling his charms with her posse, while Colbert experiences his charms up close and personal. A lot of kissing and hugging and lap sitting. Yaaaaay, pre-code!

The machinations and snowball effect of this crazy smiling plot force Chevalier to make an “honest” woman of Hopkins by marrying her. ( In other words, he’s just hoodwinked! ) But he will not seal the deal on their wedding night, much to Hopkins’ frustration. What a topsy turvy world Lubitsch puts us in.

SMILING ( XX )

“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make
him drink. That’s as far as I go. That’s my limit.”

He does not love her; and with her bloomers, Princess Leia hair buns and sheltered ways …does not desire her. He hooks up again with Colbert with a most ingenious ruse. Complete with orchestra to accompany a night of love, they get to putting more magic in the muffins.

   SMILING ( I )    SMILING ( XVII )

If music be the food of love, uhmmmm, well, you know what to do…

SMILING ( XXII ) SMILING ( XXI )

SMILING ( XXIII )

NOW he can come back home a happy satisfied man. The guy is walking on air again. Lubitsch is killing me. Chevalier’s stand-offish manner with his wife and father-in-law changes to  profuse happiness, which is promptly misinterpreted by the poor and clueless King and Princess. ( Look at that face. I’m telling you, I am in love with the Daddy King and would love to play checkers with him.  )

SMILING ( XXIV )“He called me Daddy.”

Colbert has sex without marriage – Hopkins has marriage without sex. One is protected, the other…without protection.

SMILING ( XIX ) SMILING ( XVI )

We’ve seen Wife vs. Mistress scenarios since 1931 but Lubitsch puts a refreshing take on it. First they fight, then they commisserate and then:

SMILING ( XXV ) SMILING ( XXX ) SMILING ( XXXI )

SMILING ( XXXII )

“Let me see your underwear.”

See…the one thing women bond over: clothes. Bloomers, underwear and such. This is a great fun scene, the transference of power from Colbert to Hopkins. Colbert makes a jazzbaby out of Hopkins by jazzing up her lingerie ( rhyme it with melody ) and making her the woman Chevalier would desire. She teaches and trains her well. ( Mmm…those lessons. )

SMILING ( XXXIII ) SMILING ( XXXIV ) SMILING ( XXXV )

SMILING ( XXXVI )

“Girls who start with breakfast, don’t usually
stay for supper. Take good care of our Niki.”

Colbert generously and painfully gives him up. I didn’t quite see that coming; the generosity of Colbert to do this. I think I’m still at a lost as to why she does this. She does love Niki.

SMILING ( XXXVIII ) SMILING ( XXXIX )

It’s a very poignant  scene; Colbert’s very expressive as she writes her Dear John letter and leaves her garter and apartment key. These two gals could become friends but I think this is the end for them. Colbert’s walking away puts a lump in my throat.

But Lubitsch switches the tone on us once again.

SMILING ( XXXX ) SMILING ( XXXXI )

There will be no checkers tonight. Lets see how apt a pupil Hopkins is…

SMILING ( XXXXIV )

When Chevalier sees the transformed Hopkins, he is deeeeeeeeelighted. She’s sexy wearing a short cute little negligee, smoking cigarettes and playing a modern tune on the piano. He can’t believe his eyes, gets fortified with some alcohol, and finally runs down to Hopkins’ Galatea, to reap the benefits of Colbert’s Pygmalion. He’s a happy camper. They both are.

Now if I were to go by the Letter of the Law with “The Smiling Lieutenant” instead of the Spirit of the Law, I could get my dander up. Chevalier uses women, marries under false pretenses instead of telling the truth, and cheats on his wife. He suffers from the Peter Pan syndrome: he won’t grow up, juvenile, immature, wants what he wants. Is he interested in love or just his own pleasure? Is he simply led around by his own hap-piness? ( Didja see what I did there? ) Why do Colbert AND Hopkins become allies instead of competitors all for Chevalier’s pleasure and neither of them kick his butt to the curb?

Unh unh!!!

THAT WOULD BE CRAZY!!! What am I, NUTS?!! The Letter of the Law? HA! WHY would I cut off my nose to spite my face, instead of just going along with the flow and Spirit of Lubitsch.

SMILING ( XXXXV )

And we come full circle. He’s at his bedroom door talking to us again; mugging and singing to us about how happy he is. Inside we hear Hopkins chime in with a “ Ra-ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta, ta-tahhhhh!” And you know she’s happy too. This was a light fun movie with its double entendres and metaphors and all manners of whoopeeee…the movie doesn’t pass judgment on any one, so why should we? “The Smiling Lieutenant” is good clean sexy fun. Ernst Lubitsch says so.

LUBITSCH & MIRIAM
Lubitsch with his “Design for Living” stars Cooper, March and Hopkins

Don’t stop here folks. If you’re curious about films like The Long Hot Summer”  “Design for Living” “She Done Him Wrong” “Born To Kill” Pillow Talk “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and many more films, click this link—> The Sex ( Now That I Have Your Attention ) Blogathon for more. This will be our secret. Don’t worry. I won’t tell…    😉

 

(  H O M E  )

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21 thoughts on “THE SMILING LIEUTENANT-1931

  1. Pingback: The SEX! (now that I have your attention) BLOGATHON is finally here! |

  2. It’s always touching to see women bond over underwear. Seriously, your enjoyment of the movie shows through with every sentence of your blog and makes it most entertaining (AND makes me eager to see the movie). And how does Claudette Colbert figure in so many of these things? Anyway, very well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was good seeing this film at TCM’s Film Festival this March. Being a captive audience like that, and not left to my own devices ( where I might’ve missed it ) I found the film really enjoyable and the crowd was so into it. Lubitsch…what a master. He takes an improbable situation and makes it worse and funny at the same time. Claudette Colbert…I’m on a small journey to see what others see in her. This film goes a long way in helping me see what her charm was. Thanxx so much for reading Steve. I know you’ve got your hands full with Sex. Err..uhmmm… I mean…Thank you for including me in your blogathon. I appreciate the exposure. Oh Lord, let me get outta here.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ahh Lubitsch…I didn’t know where he was going to take me. But when he got me there…I loved it. Thanks for reading Kellee. And your post on She Done Him Wrong was a wonderful read. Always the little historical background to help me learn something. Nicely done.

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  3. Pingback: SEX! BLOGATHON – Day 1 Recap |

    • It’s a really cool movie Terrence. I’m glad I was convincing in my telling of it. You should check it out. And hey, let me know what you think. Looking forward to the British Invasion on your blogathon next month.

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  4. Great Essay on one of my favorite Pre Codes. I wish films like these would be “unveiled” to general audiences on the bis screen , who tend to think that Classic film is all about Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz and GWTW. People need to know!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi there Fernando…first and foremost, thank you for reading my blog post on “The Smiling Lieutenant.” This might not have been a film I’d have seen on my own; didn’t want to miss out on the fun of a theatre-full of film fans. Lubitsch is amazing. You’re right, there’s so much to classic film than Casablanca or Marilyn Monroe. That’s why TCM trying to introduce a younger set to classic films by showing them Close Encounters of the Third Kind or some such thing goes against my brain pans.

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  5. A Lubitsch film I haven’t seen. If I merely read the synopsis of this movie, I’d want to have the two ladies definitely kick this cad to the curb, but with the Lubitsch touch, I am sure it makes it a very palatable experience. I’ll be scanning TCM’s future schedule and tivo it, stat!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey there Jenni. By the Letter of the Law and by everything Holy and Feminist, yes Chevalier should be kicked to the curb. But…uh….he certainly knows how to please a lady and who’s kicking THAT outta bed? And you’ve hit the nail on the head when you mention the Lubitsch Touch. He knows how to turn it all around and make you like it. I hope you get to see this film. I think it’ll put a smile on your face.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: 2015 TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL: WHEN IS A MULTI-PLEX NOT A MULTI-PLEX… | CineMaven's: ESSAYS from the COUCH

  7. I didn’t get to see this at the TCM Fest in March (I was at the Dawn of Technicolor presentation instead), but got it from Netflix and watched last night. I thought it was just delightful. Not a huge Chevalier fan, but thought he was charming in this movie. And it was a treat to see Claudette Colbert early in her career and looking soooooo young. “Jazz up your Lingerie” was a hoot, with my favorite exchange being Colbert to Hopkins: “Get hot!” and Hopkins’ reply: “I’ll try!” Lol. Enjoyed your post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi there Wendy!! I admit ( ugh! ) this might not have been my FIRST choice of movie to watch had it not been for being held hostage, seeing it with a bunch of folks at the TCMFF. But once I committed, I really enjoyed it. And enjoyed it so much, I THEN wound up going all the way to Asbury Park recently to see “The Smiling Lieutenant” with two gentlemen who were also at the recent TCMFF. Like you, I too am not a big Chevalier fan…but he utterly charmed me. In fact, I’m not gaa-gaa over all three leads, but they totally won me over in this film. The whole “Pygmalion” scene at the end between Hopkins and Colbert was wonderfully provocative as only pre-code can do. LOL! Thanx for reading and commenting…and remember:

      ( “Ra-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-taaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” )

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  8. Thank you for this great post! I love this movie. I always suck up the pre-Code films on TCM, and this was one of them. Chevalier certainly was a sexy charmer in his day. I enjoyed your comment on Claudette Colbert’s giving up Chevalier: that broke my heart and I HATED that the film made light of her losing him. But a few years ago I read a newspaper essay that theorized about women in pre-Code movies: although those films seemed to be rather open about sex and sex roles, they did hold to certain rules, and one of those rules was that a woman must always end up either married or chastened for her “bad” behavior. Thus, Claudette’s heartbreaking statement: “Girls who start with breakfast, don’t usually stay for supper. Take good care of our Niki.” She’s admitting that although she loves Niki, she deserves to lose him him because she allowed herself to enjoy him before it was permissible. (It really depressed me!) I’d love to know your thoughts. Thanks again for your fun post!

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    • I love pre-code. And I agree with all you say in your cogent comments here. You’re so right, the rule of thumb was yes, a woman had to pay for her sexuality. I felt for Claudette. If Chevalier weren’t so gald-durned charming I’d be upset with him for being so shallow. His love followed sex. Colbert and Hopkins teaming up was a wonderful scene. How often could the wife and girlfriend be friends and kick the hubby/lover to the curb.

      You know who I thought was absolutely adorable…the King. The man who played Hopkins’ father. Absolutely adorable. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment.

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      • You’re right, the King was like a mischievous little boy! He went from goofing around to bellowing orders all in one breath, and it was hilarious. That actor had it down.

        The teaming-up of Claudette’s and Miriam’s characters did make Claudette’s heartbreak a little easier to swallow. Thank you for your thoughtful reply, and most of all your wonderful blog!

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      • Sophia…the King played by George Barbier just won me over with his silly little smile. He was so happy to be getting a son-in-law. I fell for him hook, line and sinker. Thanks so much for reading and letting me know you like my blog. 🙂

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