Prins for en dag
Here starts a long streak of early musicals. When sound came to the movies making musicals seemed the way to really exploit this new technology the same way 3D technology is buried in rollercoaster rides. The Book has a lot of musical entries from this period, but apparently they were even more prevalent than the Book indicates and very popular too.
Despite being the first American musical entry in the book (there are two earlier French entries) “Love me tonight” is not a bad representative at all. It is sweet, silly and full of stereotypes, but this is also in many ways what makes musicals loved by those who really care for them. I am the first to admit that I am not one of those, but I am starting to revise that opinion. The more of these old musicals I see the better I like them (with a few exceptions, see “Babes in arms”, 1938) and here we get tons of sugarcoating. Hey, even the DVD box is pink!
The story is a classic: A Parisian tailor (Maurice Courtelin played by Maurice Chevalier) finds out that his big scoop of a client, the Viscount Gilbert de Varèze (Charles Ruggles) turns out to be entirely destitute leaving him with a whole bunch of unpaid suits and subcontractors screaming for money. Maurice decides to go to the chateau of this notorious debtor and claim his money.
On his way there he has an odd encounter with Princess Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald). I am not sure how it comes about but he immediately declares his love for her and she runs away in chock from this madman.
At the Chateau the Viscount has gotten his plea for more money refused by the old godfather himself, the Duke (C. Aubry Smith), so he and his sister (equally broke) are stuck there. The chateau is boredom itself with the highlights being bridge while asleep and three yapping aunts sounding like chickens or small dogs. When Maurice arrives the Viscount is terrified that the old man will find out Maurice is a creditor so he presents him as Baron Courtelin. This makes him immediately accepted among the high and mighty.
The Princess immediately recognizes him and gradually warms to Maurice undeniable charm. During a most hilarious hunt where Maurice ends up nursing the scared deer, he and the princess gets most cordial. The Duke has decided that the Princess can only marry an eligible suitor of which there are only two in the country: one is 89, the other almost 12. And possibly the hopeless (and hopeful) suitor Count de Savignac (Charles Butterworth).
Unfortunately all good comes to an end. When Maurice cannot resist improving the new riding suit of the princess he is a little too good and has to admit that he is no baron but just a tailor. This becomes a horrified chorus all through the chateau: The son of a gun is nothing but a tailor!
Maurice leaves in disgrace (without the money), but of course that is not where it ends. You get only one guess as to what happens next and you are quite right and they lived happily ever after.
Now, this is a musical and should be judged based on the songs rather than the story. These vary in quality from the truly inventive to the trivial. The opening is something special. The sounds of Paris waking up become music in itself and morphs into the song of Maurice going to work. I immediately thought of Lars von Triers “Dancer in the Dark” and frankly it works much better here in the original. There are also a number of song themes that carry from character to character like “How romantic” or “Nothing but a tailor”. It is very well done. The songs themselves I am not too crazy about, but that is something with the style in general.
Maurice Chevalier is not just the lead, but the person who carries the entire film. All others, including Jeanette MacDonald, dwarfs next to him simply due to his screen presence. He is over the top French and gets away with probably because he really is French even if it becomes cliché. I can easily imagine the women of the early thirties swooning over him; he has that knock-them-off-their-feet presence.
This is not a movie to convince you that early musicals are really your thing, but if you like the genre you will enjoy this one.