Cast: Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Charles Ruggles, Charles Butterworth, Myrna Loy
SUMMARY: In Paris, tailor Maurice Courtelin (Maurice Chevalier) believes he has hit the big time: he has been asked to produce a number of suits for local nobility Vicomte Gilbert de Vareze (Charles Ruggles). Courtelin believes that this patronage will lead to more numerous and influential customers, and brings in a shirt maker, hat maker and boot maker to supply the Vicomte. Unfortunately, the Vicomte is broke, and tries to avoid paying his bills by traveling to the home of his uncle, the Duc d’Artelines. Courtelin and his fellow businessmen are determined to get their money, so Courtelin also decides to go d’Atelines’ house and collect. In addition to d’Atelines and Gilbert, several other family members live at the house, including d’Atelines’ two nieces, Valentine (Myrna Loy) and Princess Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald), three elderly aunts, and the Comte de Savignac (Charles Butterworth). Princess Jeanette, though only 22, has been a widow for three years after being married briefly to a man much older than her. D’Atelines wants to marry her off again, but has been unable to find someone of both suitable rank and age. De Savignac is not related to the family, but often hangs around in the hopes of wooing Jeanette.
On the way to the d’Atelines castle, Courtelin meets Jeanette. He is immediately attracted to her, but his frankness in professing this turns her off. When Courtelin arrives at the castle, Gilbert introduces him as “Baron Courtelin” in an attempt to hide his debt from his uncle. When Courtelin learns that Jeanette is a member of the family, and a princess, he embraces his role as a nobleman in order to get closer to her. Over the next several days, he proceeds to actively pursue Jeanette, while also impressing and charming virtually everyone in the house (particularly the three aunts). Only two people are not swayed: de Savignac and Jeanette. De Savignac begins investigating and learns that there is no Baron Courtelin: Gilbert covers by hinting that Courtelin is really an undercover royal. Jeanette’s disregard for him does not deter Courtelin, and eventually he manages to win her over. The day after, Courtelin criticizes the tailor who is creating Jeanette’s new riding habit and causes the woman to leave. Courtelin announces that he can make a better habit, and is given two hours to prove it (de Savignac and Gilbert take bets on whether or not he can do it, with Gilbert gleefully making a huge wager that Courtelin will pull it off). Courtelin comes through in the time limit, but when pressed by Jeanette he is forced to admit that he is a tailor, not a Baron. Jeanette and the rest of the house (family and staff) are horrified, and Courtelin quickly packs his bags and leaves on a train to Paris. Jeanette reflects on her earlier promise to love Courtelin no matter who or what he was, and decides that she must get him back. She uses a horse to chase down the train; when it refuses to stop and let her on, she stands in the middle of the tracks. When the train stops, Courtelin comes running out, and the two are reunited.
MY TAKE: The only other Maurice Chevalier movies I have seen are Gigi and The Aristocats (in which he sings the theme song), both of which came in the late stages of his career. Thus, it was pretty interesting to see him as a young man, although his singing voice sounds exactly the same. This film is a musical, so I’m sort of predisposed to like it, but this was one of the better ones I’ve seen lately. It’s a pre-Code movie, so there are quite a few racy jokes and innuendoes, which make things more fun. Myrna Loy and Charles Ruggles (who played the grandfather in the original Parent Trap) nearly steal the show, particularly when they’re subtly harassing the Comte. They make all kinds of sarcastic remarks and one-liners about him, most of which go right over his head. The romance storyline is pretty typical for the era, with the two characters falling in love after very little interaction. Jeanette goes from hating Courtelin to loving him in a split-second, which frankly seems unbelievable: I can understand the love-hate angle, but to confess that you’re totally, completely in love so suddenly seems contrived. One of the best parts of the movie is the music, which was done by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart (not as good as Rogers-Hammerstein, but not bad). This was one of the first musicals to use songs as a story-telling device, meaning that they fit into the song and further the plot. This later became a standard, but it was very new at the time. It is also rather revolutionary because some of the songs were sung by multiple characters in different locations, combining the songs with film editing. Consequently, the movie has held up pretty well after all these years.
RATING: Not bad.