Cast & Crew
Rudolph Fallière, a wealthy and handsome count visiting Monte Carlo, sees the impoverished Countess Vera lose heavily at roulette, tries to meet her, but somehow always is prevented from doing so. By accident he meets her hairdresser, Paul, and the next day passes himself off as the new hairdresser, hoping to reveal his love for her. Learning she is to discharge him for lack of funds, Rudolph induces her to let him play her last 1,000 f note at the casino; although he does not play, he returns with 100,000 f and, overjoyed, she kisses him; but the next day she reverts to her usual deferential attitude. Rudolph kisses her fiercely and departs, refusing her offers to return. She finally accepts the proposal of Prince Liebenheim out of financial distress; but Rudolph arranges for her to attend a performance of Monsieur Beaucaire in which a prince poses as a hairdresser to win his lady, and realizing the similarity with her own relationship to Rudolph, the countess leaves Liebenheim for her true love.
After the success of their first musical together, The Love Parade (1929), which was also her screen debut and his first sound film, Paramount hoped to capitalize on the winning formula with this follow-up. Monte Carlo lacked the presence of Maurice Chevalier, with whom MacDonald had such winning chemistry in the earlier picture. (Lubitsch would correct this error by pairing them again in One Hour with You, 1932, and The Merry Widow, 1934.) Nevertheless, Monte Carlo was a hit with audiences and earned favorable reviews from critics, like the New York Times' Mordaunt Hall, who praised the picture for its "wit with a Parisian flair, keen imagination, tuneful melodies, and clever performances."
MacDonald plays the beautiful but penniless Countess Vera von Conti, who flees her pending marriage of convenience to a prince, boarding a train bound for the eponymous gambling capital and playground of the rich clad in nothing but a chinchilla coat over silk undergarments. In Monte Carlo she catches the eye of Count Rudolph Fallieres, whom she mistakes for a hairdresser and hires for both his sartorial skills and the good luck he brings her at the gambling tables. The requisite misunderstandings and amorous cat-and-mouse games ensue before a night at the opera--an adaptation of Booth Tarkington's similarly plotted Monsieur Beaucaire--reveals his true identity and brings the lovers together.
Produced at a cost of more than $700,000, the picture was praised for continuing the innovations of The Love Parade, particularly the earlier film's breakthrough in integrating story and songs. Every song either defines character or advances the plot. Lubitsch was greatly aided in this by lyricist Leo Robin, with whom Lubitsch would work on four more movies. The director valued the lyricist above all others for maintaining the integrity of the characters even as they were singing "instead of suddenly becoming a performer and walking out of the picture."
The most celebrated example of integration of song and action is the duet for soprano and locomotive with a peasant chorus back-up. As MacDonald speeds toward the Riviera, the train's whistle sets off an introduction to the song "Beyond the Blue Horizon," taken up rhythmically by the engine, wheels, piston, and smokestack. She begins to sing along and soon finds her tune echoed by field hands as she passes. The song, with music by Richard Whiting and W. Franke Harling, became one of MacDonald's signature tunes and reportedly a favorite of President John F. Kennedy. During World War II, she would often sing it to entertain the troops, changing the line "beyond the blue horizon lies the rising sun" to "lies the shining sun" because the Rising Sun was a symbol of America's wartime adversary, Japan.
The one down side to the picture noted by many reviewers is the casting of British musical star Jack Buchanan as MacDonald's love interest. Contrary to the charisma U.S. audiences found in Chevalier at the time, Buchanan today seems rather prissy in the role--a bit more of the stereotypical hairdresser than the dashing count. "I was frequently challenged to prove my manhood in my own country, particularly as a trembling youth," Buchanan once noted. Although he continued to have a highly successful stage and film career in his native England, Monte Carlo proved to be his last American film until the musical The Bandwagon (1953). He enjoyed working with MacDonald on this picture and hoped to find a stage property they could do together. "I felt a very arresting part could be built for her, as her range of talent was so considerable," he later said, but it never came about.
MacDonald almost didn't make this picture. David O. Selznick, then assistant production head for Paramount, believed that with only one movie under her belt, she was not enough of a name to carry this one, but Lubitsch insisted. The director had a fondness for his star that eventually went beyond professional respect. Halfway through production, he threw an afternoon garden party at his Santa Monica beach house attended by a host of celebrities. At one point, the recently divorced Lubitsch cornered MacDonald privately and with great intensity asked her to marry him. Thinking he was joking, she laughed and breezed past him to return to the party. According to some reports, Lubitsch avenged this humiliation by criticizing her mercilessly on set the next day. Confronting him about this harassment, she was told he was only being hard on her because Buchanan was so nervous and insecure and this was the best way to get a good performance out of him. MacDonald didn't buy this explanation, but from that point on, their relationship moved back to a healthier place and the two became close friends. When he died of a heart attack in 1947, just three days after spending Thanksgiving at the home she shared with her husband Gene Raymond, MacDonald sang a slow and moving version of "Beyond the Blue Horizon" at his funeral.
Apparently MacDonald didn't share the enthusiasm many film buffs felt for her early groundbreaking musicals. During a screening of Monte Carlo many years later at the Museum of Modern Art, she laughed openly at all the wrong places, so irritating the audience that an usher was sent to quiet her.
Producer: Ernst Lubitsch
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Screenplay: Ernest Vajda (adaptation); Vincent Lawrence (additional dialogue); Booth Tarkington (novel "Monsieur Beaucaire"); Hans Müller (play, "The Blue Coast"), Evelyn Greenleaf Sutherland (play, "Monsieur Beaucaire")
Cinematography: Victor Milner
Music: W. Franke Harling; Karl Hajos, Herman Hand, Sigmund Krumgold, John Leipold (all uncredited)
Film Editing: Merrill G. White
Cast: Jack Buchanan (Count Rudolph Falliere/Rudy the Hairdresser), Jeanette MacDonald (Countess Helene Mara), Claud Allister (Prince Otto von Liebenheim), Zasu Pitts (Bertha), Tyler Brooke (Armand), John Roche (Paul, the 'Real' Hairdresser), Lionel Belmore (Duke Gustav von Liebenheim), Albert Conti (Prince Otto's Companion/M.C), Helen Garden (Lady Mary in Stage Opera), Donald Novis (Monsieur Beaucaire in Stage)
by Rob Nixon
Monte Carlo - Jeanette MacDonald Stars in Ernst Lubitsch's MONTE CARLO on DVD
Two of the four star Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier, one of the great screen pairs. The Smiling Lieutenant stars Chevalier but not MacDonald, and Monte Carlo has MacDonald but not Chevalier. In his place is the actor Jack Buchanan, who despite a long career in show business (as actor, writer, director and producer) is singly remembered for his turn in The Band Wagon (1953).
He is something of a weakness in Monte Carlo, but not disastrously so; he even survives having to perform the film's worst song, "Trimmin' the Women," with two other gents. No, what keeps Monte Carlo afloat and alive are the creativity of Lubitsch and the charm and voice of MacDonald. The film begins with a wedding scene - actually, a non-wedding, as we soon realize we are watching the aftermath of a bride having fled the premises just before going to the altar. Lubitsch gives it to us all pictorially (and musically), with a sequence of witty and visual humor outside in the rain. It sets up the story, it establishes a level of visual storytelling that the movie will mostly maintain, and it gets us used to music as a meaningful device. Not a word of dialogue is necessary. And when the first word does come, it is hilarious in its unexpectedness. Talk about making every word count!
The bride, of course, is played by MacDonald, and the first we see of her is hopping aboard a train, not even knowing where it is going. She just wants no part of the duke (Claude Allister) she was to marry. On the train with barely any clothes and almost no money, she impulsively decides to take it as far as Monte Carlo, where she plans to turn her 10,000 francs into millions. She succeeds...and then she doesn't...in a roulette sequence as entertaining as it is exasperating to witness. More importantly, a count (Buchanan) gets a good look at her, and, through plot devices too outlandish to explain here, ends up posing as her hairdresser in order to spend time with her and slowly seduce her. It's basically a modernization of Booth Tarkington's Monsieur Beaucaire, which receives a screenplay credit as a source material along with Hans Mueller's play The Blue Coast. Ernest Vajda is credited with the screenplay adaptation. It's all done in light-musical-comedy mode, and while the film runs out of steam a bit as it goes along, it works. In the end, there's a scene at an opera house in which Monsieur Beaucaire is being performed on stage, and Lubitsch takes the opportunity to let the words from the opera substitute for the characters' dialogue.
Touches like that are quite astounding for such an early talkie, and they remain innovative even today. Not many contemporary filmmakers still treat picture and sound as two distinct and separate tools. Lubitsch thrived on such devices. He also gives us a slap on the face off-screen and makes a naughty joke entirely by two shots of a musical clock. And he integrates the songs in a way that furthers the plot and keeps them cinematically fluid. In "Beyond the Blue Horizon," MacDonald sings as the train passes through farmland; the train whistle blows on beat, and workers in the countryside sing along as the train passes through, the land basically coming alive in music. The film's best and most hummable tune, however, is "Always in All Ways," charmingly sung by the two stars and used as underscoring in a few other sequences.
Claude Allister is perfectly cast as the jilted suitor who ends up in Monte himself to try and win back his bride, and Frances Dee can be seen briefly as a receptionist, in one of her earliest screen appearances. Her first credited role would come two films later, when she starred opposite Maurice Chevalier in The Playboy of Paris (1930).
Eagle-eyed viewers will spot a funny in-joke just before the final opera sequence. A shot of a poster lists Lucien Ballard starring as Monsieur Beaucaire. Ballard was actually the camera operator on this film and was starting what would be a long and distinguished career as one of the best directors of photography in the business. He later shot The Wild Bunch , for instance.
Print quality is uneven, with some speckling and scratchiness (and one shot downright blurry), but overall it's perfectly acceptable. As usual in the Eclipse line, there are no extras, save for liner notes on the inside of each slim-case.
For more information about Monte Carlo, visit Eclipse. To order Monte Carlo (which is only available as part of the Lubitsch Musicals set), go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
Monte Carlo - Jeanette MacDonald Stars in Ernst Lubitsch's MONTE CARLO on DVD
Lubitsch Musicals Eclipse Series 8 - LUBITSCH MUSICALS: Eclipse Series 8 - Now on DVD!
1929's The Love Parade establishes the Lubitsch musical comedy format; the only thing slowing it down are a few too many unmemorable songs. Lubitsch paired Maurice Chevalier (in his second talkie) with Jeanette MacDonald, a fresh face and voice from Philadelphia. In the mythical country of Sylvania, Queen Louise (MacDonald) marries young Count Renard (Chevalier), a diplomat recalled from Paris for having too many notorious affairs. Renard is likewise smitten, but he rebels at being relegated to the powerless position of Queen's Consort. He withholds his presence at formal ceremonies until Louise breaks down and acknowledges his masculine rights.
Lubitch begins in Paris with an almost wordless sequence involving a jealous husband and a mock suicide attempt. Renard retains an amused 'French' attitude through it all, trusting that everything will work out. Back in Sylvania, Louise is badgered by her ministers to take a husband; she worries about spinsterhood until smoothie Renard arrives for punishment and stays for a seduction. As an added treat, the royal romance is mirrored by servants Lupino Lane (a clever music hall-type performer) and Lillian Roth, whose smiling eyes have hanky-panky written all over them. Lubitsch invests this trifle with delicate comic timing, emphasizing MacDonald's mischievous antics and Chevalier's relaxed self-assurance. MacDonald is frequently on display wearing elaborate nightgowns and filmy undergarments, an aspect of the film that surely attracted both male and female viewers. Hays Code? What Hays Code? Although not as saucy as the later films, The Love Parade delivers a new kind of screen entertainment.
1930's Monte Carlo must do without Chevalier, replacing him with Jack Buchanan, a refined Englishman with plenty of talent but little in the way of sex appeal. Buchanan is now known almost exclusively through his performance in Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon, over twenty years later. Lubitsch compensates by giving Jeanette MacDonald more sexy business (& lingerie) and much better music. MacDonald debuts the hit song Beyond the Blue Horizon in a speeding train. We're told that 1930 audiences marveled at the excitement generated when angles of the moving locomotive were edited in time with the melody.
The plot has Countess Helene Mara (MacDonald) bolting from the altar and fleeing to Monte Carlo, where she loses all her money at roulette yet takes a suite in an expensive hotel. Unable arrange a proper introduction, Count Rudolph Falliere (Buchanan) poses as a hairdresser to be near Helene, and soon replaces most of her servants. By the time the Countess's foppish fiancé shows up, Falliere is also accompanying Helene out on the town. Helene figures she'll have to give up Rudy for financial reasons, until her hairdresser reveals his true identity.
Double-entendres abound as Rudy finds excuses not to cut Helene's hair. Improved songs comment on the story with earthy wit: a chorus chirps the rude lyric, "He's a nas, he's a nas, he's a nasty-tempered brute!" Buchanan isn't as charismatic as Chevalier but he plays Lubitsch's visual gags to the hilt. Rudolph follows Helene to the casino's doors, claiming that if she rubs his hair, she'll have good luck. Helene ignores him and slams the door in his face. But when he turns back to signal failure, the door opens just long enough for Helene's hand to pop out and give Rudy's head a pat!
The visual, verbal and sexual invention continues in 1931's The Smiling Lieutenant, a fast-moving farce that constructs a romantic triangle by bracketing Chevalier with two new sweethearts. Viennese Lieutenant Niki Von Preyn (Chevalier) falls madly in love with Franzi (irresistible Claudette Colbert), a violinist in a popular beer garden band. Their romance is blissful until Niki inadvertently winks and smiles at Franzi just as a carriage carrying foreign royalty passes between them. Naíve Princess Anna of Flausenthurm (Miriam Hopkins) concludes that Niki has slighted her, and her furious father demands satisfaction. Anna instead makes Niki her companion during their Viennese visit. The two countries eventually decide that Niki must marry Anna, and Franzi is crestfallen when Niki departs for his new home. In Flausenthurm castle, the new husband refuses to perform his matrimonial duty. 'Stepping out' on the town, he discovers that Franzi and her band have followed him to this new country. When Anna finds out, the two women come to a surprisingly original solution to the problem.
The Smiling Lieutenant builds to a bittersweet ending, which it undercuts with more frivolity. We can imagine young screenwriter Billy Wilder studying this film in hopes of understanding 'the Lubitsch touch.' Colbert and Chevalier are inflamed with passionate abandon; after the Code restrictions were enforced most of the fun of sex was leeched out of Hollywood filmmaking. Hopkins is genuinely amusing as the backward belle from Flausenthurm (Geshundheit!). We can tell she's in serious need of enlightenment by her unfamiliarity with sexy underwear!
The Smiling Lieutenant was Lubitsch's first collaboration with writer Samuel Raphaelson, with whom he later made many of his most famous comedies. Anna's stuffy papa quickly consents to her marriage with a foreign Lieutenant after her simple threat: If the King doesn't say Yes, she'll marry an American!
Lubitsch finalizes his naughty musical comedy formula in 1932's One Hour With You, a movie that begins with Dr. Andre Bertier and his wife Colette (Chevalier and MacDonald) happily married and in love. If it plays out like a silent sex farce, it's because it's a remake of Lubitsch's own 1924 The Marriage Circle. Colette's wicked best friend Mitzi (Genevieve Tobin) plots to seduce Andre while leading Colette to believe that another woman is responsible. Things come to a head at a dinner party. Mitzi entices Andre to join her in the garden, and then finally to come home with her, at 2:30 in the morning. The big surprise is that the film tosses off Andre's flagrant infidelity as no big deal when compared to his commitment to Colette. Colette accepts and forgives Andre, while Andre doesn't believe Colette's confession of a midnight kiss with his best friend, the ardent fool Adolph (Charles Ruggles).
With nothing on its mind but lovemaking, the elegant, impeccably turned out One Hour With You completes these four musical fairytales on a high note. The film is partly credited to George Cukor; Eclipse's liner notes tell us that Lubitsch was originally set to only supervise, but stepped in and redid all of Cukor's work when he felt that the dailies weren't good enough. Most sources still credit Cukor as a co-director.
Eclipse's Lubitsch Musicals collection sports wonderful restorations of these early talkies; I believe I saw only one minor incidence of frame damage. Some of the transfers are on the grainy side but the B&W images are clean and the audio cleaner, even on the 1929 The Love Parade. For all the touting of MGM films as Hollywood's glossiest, Paramount's seem more artistic even when they make do with fewer resources.
The Eclipse series has no extras save for brief liner notes on each title, but these are expertly written and highly informative. We learn that both Lubitsch and Chevalier weathered various personal problems while these musicals were in production. It's difficult to believe that the makers of these light-hearted comedies ever had a sad day.
For more information about Lubitsch Musicals, visit Eclipse. To order Lubitsch Musicals, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson