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The frothy semi-musical One Hour with You might have become the sole film to win the Best Picture Oscar® without securing a single other nomination, but that honor went instead to one of its 1932 competitors Grand Hotel. Instead, the film's sole Oscar® nomination remains a footnote to one of the most contentious productions in Ernst Lubitsch's career.
There is no definitive explanation for why this film was not originally assigned to Lubitsch as director. After all, it was a remake of his second U.S. film, the 1924 silent The Marriage Circle, starring Florence Vidor, Monte Blue and Adolphe Menjou. And the plot, about a Parisian married couple almost torn apart by the temptation to stray, was pure Lubitsch. At the time Paramount put this new adaptation of Lothar Schmidt's stage play into production, the director was busy with one of his rare dramatic projects, The Man I Killed (1932), which was behind schedule. Some biographers have suggested that with the end of his contract approaching, the studio may have wanted to get as much work out of him as possible. Whatever the reason, George Cukor was assigned to direct under Lubitsch's supervision.
When Lubitsch approached Maurice Chevalier about playing the leading role, he asked the producer to cast Kay Francis and Carole Lombard as his wife and mistress, possibly because, as was rumored at the time, he had his eye on both romantically. Not wanting to risk a romantic triangle on the set, Lubitsch convinced him that Jeanette MacDonald, Chevalier's co-star in The Love Parade (1929), and stage comedienne Genevieve Tobin would be more suitable co-stars.
Lubitsch got more time to focus on One Hour with You when he finished shooting The Man I Killed. The first thing he did was to take a close look at frequent collaborator Samson Raphaelson's script...and then discarded it completely. He even got Paramount to delay the start of production until they could finish a complete re-write. During that time, he carefully shaped a typical Lubitsch production, full of sophisticated wit, theatrical touches (including some scenes with rhyming dialogue and moments at which Chevalier talks to the audience) and a subtle approach to sexuality that had inspired the term "The Lubitsch Touch."
Once shooting started, Lubitsch realized there was something wrong. Although participants in the filming have offered conflicting accounts, Raphaelson claims that two days into the shoot, Lubitsch asked him if they could look at the rushes together. Both agreed that Cukor was giving the film entirely the wrong tone, with some of the scenes overplayed and the insertion of extraneous business that killed the pace. Chevalier was already complaining that Cukor was directing him too broadly. So Lubitsch started taking over, first suggesting a few camera set-ups, then directing rehearsals and finally simply directing the film himself as Cukor sat on the sidelines and approved everything the master did. Although critics have attempted to identify Cukor's influence on the film, studio records indicate that his only contributions that survive are some few silent reaction shots and footage of walking feet.
Nonetheless, One Hour with You previewed with Cukor still credited as director, and Lubitsch merely listed as "Supervisor" (the term used before "Producer" came into prominence). After reading preliminary reviews that credited Cukor with getting more out of Chevalier than Lubitsch ever had, Lubitsch demanded that the credits be changed and studio head Budd Schulberg asked Cukor to accept lesser billing. When the director refused, Schulberg had his name removed from all prints. Then Cukor filed a court injunction preventing Paramount from opening the film until he was given proper credit. The matter was settled out of court, with Lubitsch billed as director and Cukor as dialogue director. In return, Schulberg let Cukor out of his contract early so he could join friend David O. Selznick at RKO to direct What Price Hollywood? (1932), which some have suggested was the point of the injunction in the first place. In later years, Cukor would speak both carefully and bitterly of the experience, telling interviewer Gavin Lambert, "With the best intentions in the world, I couldn't do a Lubitsch picture. Lubitsch was what they really wanted and what they should have had [from the beginning]."
With new credits, One Hour with You met with critical praise, with most crediting its success to the man Mildred Martin of the Philadelphia Inquirer called "Hollywood's most original and knowing director of sophisticated comedy." The film's Oscar® nomination - alongside another film Lubitsch made with Chevalier, The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) - attested to his continuing prestige in Hollywood. But the box office take, though still good, was less than expected. The film was a victim of changing times as audience tastes began to veer from sophisticated fare to more working-class musicals such as 42nd Street, which debuted later the same year. That hardly diminished Lubitsch's standing in Hollywood. With the end of his contract, the director had several lucrative offers, though he eventually re-signed with Paramount, which he would run briefly a few years later as their production manager.
Producer: Ernst Lubitsch
Director: Lubitsch, George Cukor
Screenplay: Samson Raphaelson
Based on the play Only a Dream by Lothar Schmidt
Cinematography: Victor Milner
Art Direction: Hans Dreier
Music: Oscar Strauss, Richard Whiting
Principal Cast: Maurice Chevalier (Dr. Andre Bertier), Jeanette MacDonald (Colette Bertier), Genevieve Tobin (Mitzi Olivier), Charles Ruggles (Adolph), Roland Young (Professor Olivier), George Barbier (Police Commissioner), Josephine Dunn (Mlle. Martel), Charles Coleman (Marcel, Adolph's Butler), Mae Questel (Office Worker).
by Frank Miller
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