Wednesday, September 26, 2012

PARAMOUNT AT 100: Isn't it Romantic?

This is my contribution to the Paramount Centennial Blogathon hosted by the Hollywood Revue. The studio that defines Hollywood is 100 years young! For a look at more Paramount Centennial celebrations, click here.
A Paramount Pictures "wheel of stars" featuring the best of their female stars of the 1920s
Love Me Tonight

In 1932 Paramount Pictures produced one of the world's most perfect films. "Love Me Tonight" is a musical box of bon bons that makes you close your eyes and say "my, that is perfectly delicious." Directed by Rouben Mamoulian (with a Lubitsch touch), scored with brilliance by Rodgers and Hart, and starring Maurice Chevalier at his most charming and Jeanette MacDonald at her pre-code best, it is a reflection of the sophisticated and cosmopolitan product that Paramount was famous for. Unlike the sometimes stately but empty mansions of MGM, Paramount's depiction of the screen elite was infused with wit, cheek and utter comfort. Is there any doubt that Princess Jeanette belongs in a castle?
Jeanette MacDonald before Nelson Eddy:
sexy, kittenish and not afraid to wear lingerie with panache
This is an adult fairy tale that has it all - a charming story, a cast of unforgettable characters (Myrna Loy's man-hungry but castle-bound Valentine is a hoot), two leads that have enormous chemistry and a score that elevates the tale to greatness.

The story is a sweet and light confection. Maurice Courtelin (Chevalier, of course), a humble Parisian tailor, is stiffed for his services by the spendthrift and usually broke aristocrat, Viscount Gilbert de Vareze (the always welcome Charlie Ruggles). He promises Maurice the money once he can get it from his tightwad uncle, the Duke d'Artelines (C. Aubrey Smith). Tired of waiting to get paid, Maurice decides to storm the Duke's castle and demand payment for his services.
Castle inhabitants: the spendthriftthe nympho, and the stuffy Duke
On his way to the castle, Maurice has a chance encounter with the Princess Jeanette. For him, it is love at first sight. She rejects him, but maybe something stirred inside of her. Only 22, we learn that she was a widow at age 19 to a husband old enough to be her grandfather. Clearly, the Princess has needs!
There's something about Maurice...
Upon entering the castle, Viscount Gilbert introduces Maurice as the Baron Courtelin in order to hide his true identity as a lowly tailor. There Maurice not only manages to fool the Duke, Valentine, Jeanette's other suitor, the Count de Savignac (a very funny Charles Butterworth) and Jeanette's three aunts, but he also manages to fool the Castle's domestic staff, who wait on him hand and foot.
Dreaming of their lovers
While the Viscount tries to get Maurice's money, Maurice makes headway in his play for Jeanette until she finally succumbs to his charms. But, Maurice cannot help himself! Seeing how poorly Jeanette's riding suit is crafted, he proceeds to not only criticize her tailor, but to also create a new outfit for her. Maurice measures Jeanette for a new riding suit and, when discovered in mid-measure, he is forced to admit the truth: he is nothing but a tailor. 
Making sure the measurements are just right
Of course the castle's royalty is outraged, but even their anger can't match the utter disgust of the domestic staff who were forced to wait upon someone of their own class. All of this is done with great, sly humor. 

As if there was any doubt, all's well that ends well. Jeannette realizes that she can't live without her tailor and they are at last reunited. Peace and love reign once again.
The Men Behind the Music: Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart
The Score, one of Rodgers and Hart's very best, is integrated beautifully into the story. Each song is presented in a wholly organic and cinematic way. The score includes:
"Lover" - beautifully sung by Jeannette, but to her horse, not Maurice.
"Mimi" - one of Chevalier's signature songs, but also sung by the inhabitants of the castle.
"A Woman Needs Something Like That" - sung by Jeannette and her doctor (Joseph Cawthorn), a song that makes the case for sex for the Princess.
"That's the Song of Paree" - a breathtaking opening scene of the sights and sounds of Paris woven into a song of celebration for the City of Light.
"Love Me Tonight" - another lovey love song for Maurice and Jeanette.
"The Son of a Gun is Nothing But a Tailor" - a hilarious complaint of being duped by a commoner.

Isn't it Romantic?
However, the iconic and lasting musical moment of "Love Me Tonight" is an enduring love song that defines romance as more than sexual love. Romance as joy, happiness and fulfillment is first defined by Maurice in his joy for his friend's wedding, next by a cab driver getting a fare and soldiers in the field, then by the beautiful violin music played by a gypsy and, finally, all tied together by Jeanette MacDonald, as the unhappy Princess, who is stirred by the beautiful music of the night as she expresses her longing for love to the stars. A perfect presentation of a perfect song that can only be produced when all of the stars align and the heavens bestow a kiss upon we mere mortals.

"Isn't it Romantic" has been a musical thread woven over the decades that pays tribute to the glamour and glory and genius of the very best of Paramount. The song has come to be  the siren song of the great studio (Billy Wilder especially loved it) and can be heard in these later Paramount productions:
"The Lady Eve" (1941)
"The Palm Beach Story" (1942)
"A Foreign Affair" (1948)
"Sabrina" (1954)
"The Day of the Locust" (1975)
"The Out-of-Towners" (1999)
Paramount also produced a film titled "Isn't it Romantic?" in 1948, but the song wasn't used.

If you hear the strains of this song in a movie, it must be a Paramount production.

Happy Birthday, Paramount Studios!

Paramount, the studio of Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson, Clara Bow, Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Claudette Colbert, the Marx Brothers, Carole Lombard, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Betty Boop, Popeye the Sailor, Veronica Lake, Alan Ladd, Paulette Goddard, and so many more, still stands tall in Hollywood. So much as changed, so much has been lost, but still, there is Paramount. She's gone through more changes than Joan Rivers' face, but she she has survived.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for contributing this wonderful tribute to such a delightful film! I haven't watched this one in a while, but now I'm in the mood to revisit it. It really is a cinematic confection that I feel like not nearly enough people know about.

Thank you again for participating in the Paramount Centennial blogathon!

Cynthia said...

Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald!? I am THERE! Thank you for the wonderful clip; I throughly enjoyed it, and I'm probably going to share this with my "friends" on FB. They'll all be whistling or humming this tune the rest of the day.

Lasso The Movies said...

This seems like a movie that I should have seen, but for some reason I haven't. Anyway, thanks to this awesome post I will be finding it soon. I do love Maurice Chevalier and I am sure this is a film that I will be enjoying soon. Thanks.

Silver Screenings said...

I haven't seen this one either, and it looks like a lot of fun! Thanks for recommending.


The first picture is absolutely great! It would be perfect for my entry... :)
I haven't watched this film. Actually, I'm more used to 1930's musicals stared by Fred, ginger or Ruby Keller. But I'm totally willing to give Jeanette MacDonald a chance. This film really sounds like a fairy tale.
Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Angela - I look forward to reading all of the other posts!

FlickChick said...

Oh, Cynthia - you must see it - it is perfection!

FlickChick said...

Paul - if you love Maurice, you'll love this film. It is one of his early best.

FlickChick said...

silverscreenings - please let me know how you liked it if you see it!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Le - I loved your post, too!

Page said...

Those first two ads are adorable. I would love to have the first one framed. Ha Ha

I know a few I've spoken to just aren't that crazy about Jeannette but I really like her as well as the film you've touched upon here. (great pics too)

This was a fun birthday tribute to Paramount.
I'm sorry I'm so late to the party but I'll have a slice of stale cake if you've got it.

ClassicBecky said...

It looks like I may have missed a good one, FlickChick. I have to admit I have never been a fan of either young Maurice Chevalier or Jeannette MacDonald, so I passed it up. I'll give it another try just on the strength of your suggestion. And you are so right -- it sounds so romantic!

FlickChick said...

Thanks Page - good to see you!

FlickChick said...

Becky - you really should give it a try. It is one of my most favorite films.