The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)

Genres - Comedy, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Sophisticated Comedy  |   Release Date - Aug 1, 1931 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 89 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

Ernst Lubitsch had no finer interpreter of the Lubitsch style -- in musicals, at least - than Maurice Chevalier, and The Smiling Lieutenant takes full advantage of Chevalier's unique persona. Indeed, without that blend of Gallic charm, earthiness and amiability, Lieutenant would be heavy going for contemporary audiences; they may still wince at the male-dominating worldview the film evinces, even with Chevalier. The male lead has plenty to play off of in the delightful forms of Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins, each of whom gives Chevalier a run for the money and manages to occasionally steal the film away from him. Although the script sometimes loses its punch, the score is generally strong, with Chevalier given a break-the-fourth-wall specialty in "Toujours L'Amour in the Army" and even triumphing over some peculiar lyrics (e.g., "With every bit of liver, I start to quiver") in "Breakfast Table Love." Not to be outdone, Colbert also makes "Jazz Up Your Lingerie" into a real treat. Although visually Lieutenant lacks some of the fluidity of Lubitsch's other work (most likely due to the constraints of the still-new sound camera), there's still enough flair to keep things lively. Lubitsch and Chevalier's chemistry would be shown to even better advantage the next year in One Hour With You.