Saturday, March 21, 2015

One Hour with You (1932)

One Hour with You is the fourth of the Ernst Lubitsch musicals included in Criterion’s Eclipse series Lubitsch Musicals DVD boxed sets. I have to say that I’ve found this set to be a very mixed bag, but One Hour with You is not too bad.

Maurice Chevalier is Dr Andre Bertier, happily married to Colette (Jeanette MacDonald). Then Colette’s old friend Mitzi (Genevieve Tobin) arrives in town and sets out to seduce Andre. Andre is determined to resist her approaches, or at least he is for a while. Then he starts to weaken. Meanwhile Colette has convinced herself that he is really having an affair with Mademoiselle Martel (Josephine Dunn). To add to the fun and games Adolph (Charles Ruggles) is desperately pursuing Colette but with a conspicuous lack of success. The poor guy doesn’t realise he’s the comic relief character who never gets the girl.

Mitzi’s husband Professor Olivier (Roland Young) is fed up with Mitzi’s alley-cat morals and just want to get rid of her at any price (and I can’t say I blame him). He’s delighted by her pursuit of Andre because it finally gives him the chance to get the evidence he needs to divorce her.

There are the usual bedroom farce complications and misunderstandings interspersed with some fairly forgettable musical numbers.

Maurice Chevalier makes frequent asides directly to the audience, which I guess was fairly daring in 1932.

One Hour with You was actually supposed to be directed by George Cukor but Cukor proved to be so inept that Lubitsch had to take over. Cukor would go on to demonstrate his  leaden touch for comedy in disasters like Holiday (1938). We can be thankful that Lubitsch took over when he did.

Of the four movies in the Lubitsch Musicals boxed set I found The Love Parade to be an absolute delight while I found Monte Carlo and The Smiling Lieutenant to be quite a chore to sit through. The big problem is Maurice Chevalier. He thinks he’s charming and irresistible but to me he’s irritating, smarmy and obnoxious and the characters he plays are   unpleasant, cruel and manipulative. Maybe women in the 1930s liked him. Maybe women still do. Maybe he’s just the sort of man that other men instinctively detest. Or perhaps it’s just me.

I’m also not entirely sold on the famous Lubitsch Touch. I know we’re supposed to admire his “European sensibility” and his allegedly sophisticated approach to immorality. I have liked a few Lubitsch movies. Trouble in Paradise is great fun, as is Ninotchka, but I’m unconvinced that Lubitsch was a genius.

I’m also increasingly bored by the whole “isn’t adultery clever and fun” thing in pre-code movies. If that’s European sophistication then I’m afraid that to me it just looks rather sad, and rather nasty. And that’s one of the problems I have with these Lubitsch musicals - there’s an underlying viciousness to them.

One Hour with You does have its diverting moments and even Maurice Chevalier is amusing at times. Jeanette MacDonald is energetic even if her character is quite unbelievable. The idea of having some of the dialogue in rhyming couplets is quite clever. Genevieve Tobin is annoying as the awful Mitzi. Roland Young and Charles Ruggles are the standout performers with Young being especially good.

One Hour with You was the last of Lubitsch’s Paramount musicals. The Astaire-Rogers musicals and the Warner Brothers musicals such as 42nd Street were just around the corner and would soon make the Lubitsch musicals look like creaky museum pieces.

The DVD transfer is very grainy, which is the case with all four movies in this set. That doesn’t usually bother me too much - a bit of grain really doesn’t hurt a black-and-white image and can even be an asset. In this case though the picture is very grainy indeed. Those who like crystal clear images will be quite disappointed by the transfers in this set, especially considering the price. There are no extras on the discs although there are mildly informative liner notes. As is so often the case with Criterion you’re paying a premium price for strictly average quality, or in this case for distinctly below average quality. This set is very poor value for money.

One Hour with You is very lightweight and intermittently entertaining. Jeanette MacDonald fans will enjoy her spirited performance. Worth a rental if you can tolerate Maurice Chevalier. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! Looking forward to watching this movie again, but this time with your advice & insight. ;-)
    PS - Agree worth you on Chevalier. So nauseating! Only movie I liked him/his character was "Gigi".