Wednesday, May 7, 2008

One Hour with You

“One Hour with You” is 78 minutes of pure bliss. Director Ernst Lubitsch takes the topic of adultery and spins a gossamer web of elegance, wit and sophistication around it. Never has adultery been so appealing.

Paramount Pictures’ evocation of 1930s Paris is always a charming place to visit, and “One Hour with You” is no exception. Pair this with Lubitsch’s “Trouble in Paradise” (1932) and you’ll see what I’m talking about. I’m a sure a slice of Heaven reserved for film buffs has a section resembling 1930s Paris, Paramount-style. I’m looking forward to visiting it (I hope).

The film opens with the police commissioner ordering his men to rid the parks of amorous couples. One couple is adamant in their refusal to stop necking. The couple, Dr. Andre Bertier and Colette (Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald) are happily married and devoted to each other.

All is well until Colette’s school friend Mitzi (Genevieve Tobin) appears, takes one look at Andre, and decides she wants him for herself, friendship be damned. Mitzi’s husband, played by the great Roland Young, thinks his wife is up to something and has her followed by a private detective.

Meanwhile, another family friend, Adolph (Charlie Ruggles) is equally smitten with Colette and is determined to win her away from Andre.

All this takes place amid enjoyable songs by Oscar Straus and Leo Robin. My favorite number takes place at a swank dinner party. The live orchestra plays the title song, which is first sung by the bandleader. Our main characters dance with each other, and with the targets of their affections, and sing new lyrics as they’re dancing. It’s a wonderful scene.

Chevalier frequently addresses the audience. This device can be off-putting, but Chevalier is so engaging we don’t mind. At one point, when he finally succumbs to Mitzi’s advances, he sings to the audience “What Would You Do?”

I also enjoy Charlie Ruggles, but like Hugh Herbert, he’s one of those 1930s personalities that seem to grate on contemporary audiences. I don’t know why, I think he’s funny. A master of the double take, Ruggles offers us a great one in this movie when he complains to his butler why he mistakenly told him he’d be dressing for a costume party. The butler (Charles Coleman, of course) tells him, “Oh sir, I did so want to see you in tights.” Ruggles’ reaction shot to this is priceless.

Chevalier and MacDonald made four films together, and while I don’t think they cared for each other very much, they complemented each other well on screen and that’s what counts. Their first pairing “The Love Parade” (1929), also directed by Lubitsch, continues to delight and their last film “The Merry Widow” (1934), Lubitsch again, has its champions.

My favorite film of theirs is the sublime “Love Me Tonight” (1932), with its awesome Rodgers and Hart score and deft directorial touches of Rouben Mamoulian. Plus Myrna Loy as a nymphomaniac (but a most charming and likeable one).

Lubitsch and Chevalier had a hit the year before with “The Smiling Lieutenant,” which gave us the marvelous sight of Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins singing “Jazz Up Your Lingerie” God, I love Pre-Code movies.

In fact, both “The Smiling Lieutenant” and “One Hour with You” were nominated for Best Picture Oscars in the same year. (The Academy rules have wildly fluctuated throughout the years, and the 1932 Oscars were presented to those movies that opened between August 1, 1931 and July 31, 1932.) The winner that year was “Grand Hotel”, a good enough movie but not nearly as captivating as the amorous adventures of “One Hour with You.”

I first saw this movie at the Gene Siskel Film Center many years ago, at a retrospective of films recently restored by UCLA. In those pre-video, pre-TCM days, it was a big event to see a movie like “One Hour with You” in any format. The theater was packed and a grand time was had by all. There was an amazing cross section of people there and the entire theater burst into applause at the end. We all left the theater wanting to be transported to Lubitsch’s Paris.

I remember the opening scenes in the park as being tinted a dark blue, and had hoped it would be shown that way on the recent box set of early Lubitsch musicals. It wasn’t, and I wish it had. But I’m happy to have the film so readily available in the DVD format.

Rating for “One Hour with You”: Three and a half stars.

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