Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lost Horizon (1937)

Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon, based on James Hilton’s bestselling novel, was the most expensive and most ambitious movie Columbia had made up to that point when it was released in 1937. It had mixed fortunes at the box office and took several years to get into the black. It’s now of course regarded as one of Capra’s most important movies.

Lost world stories had been immensely popular in popular literature for many years prior to this, going back to the unbelievably successful novels of H. Rider Haggard in the 1880s. The lost world genre was ideally suited to motion pictures and the 1930s saw notable film adaptations of several of the best such stories such as Haggard’s She. James Hilton’s Lost Horizon combined the lost world and the utopian genres (the utopian genre having an even longer literary pedigree).

Capra’s film certainly hits the ground running with superbly execute scenes of terror and chaos as British diplomat Robert Conway (Ronald Colman) has to try to evacuate Europeans caught in the middle of yet another war in China. It is 1935, and this was the war lord period in China, a time of extraordinary violence and anarchy.

Conway and his brother George (John Howard) make their escape in the last aircraft to leave, along with an eccentric palaeontologist named Lovitt (Edward Everett Horton), a mysterious and none-too-honest American businessman named Barnard (Thomas Mitchell) and a young American girl named Gloria (Isabel Jewell).

They think they have escaped, until they realise their aircraft is heading west rather than east, and the pilot has locked himself in the cockpit. They have in fact been kidnapped although at this stage they have no idea of the reasons or of the identity of those responsible. The plane crashes in Tibet. The passengers survive the crash but but their long-term prospects seem grim until they are rescued a party sent from a nearby lamasery.  After a harrowing journey across ice and snow and mountains they find themselves in the lamasery, located above a fertile and temperate valley. They have found Shangri-La. Or it might be more correct to say that Shangi-La has found them.

Shangri-La is entirely cut off from the world and our five reluctant adventurers soon realise that they are being kept prisoner, although in the nicest possible way. But why on earth were they brought to Shangri-La and what kind of place is it? When they find the answer to those questions they must then ask themselves if they really want to leave after all.

Of course there has to be a romance. Robert Conway falls head over heels in love with the enigmatic Sondra (Jane Wyatt) while George falls for the equally mysterious Russian girl Maria (played by Margo).

Modern audiences might expect at his point to encounter a great deal of “mysterious wisdom of the East” silliness. In fact Shangri-La is a Christian community. That’s not to say that there isn’t a great deal of silliness in Lost Horizon - it’s just that this is a slightly different variety of silliness.

I have to put my cards on the table here and state that the idea of utopia always awakens my latent scepticism. When someone tells me (as the High Lama tells Conway in this movie) that here is an earthly paradise where there is no greed, no lust, no violence, no anger and no jealousy my cynicism kicks into overdrive. Let’s be honest. These are universal human emotions. The only way a society can eliminate them is by force. All dissent must be crushed. All dissenters must be punished. Underneath the starry-eyed idealism there has to be a form of totalitarianism. Needless to say Capra doesn’t want to confront such unpleasant realities. Shangri-La can only be a fantasy. When we see Robert Conway swallowing the fantasy hook, line and sinker we’re seeing an apparently intelligent middle-aged man falling for something that we would expect would be somewhat unconvincing even to an over-sensitive undergraduate.

There are a couple of moments in the film that do suggest that perhaps Shangri-La is not quite so perfect. If this is indeed the earthly paradise why is Maria prepared to pay any price, no matter how high, to escape?

The one character who doesn’t buy the fantasy is George Conway. We seem to be  expected to see him as perhaps not quite the villain but certainly as the one who  threatens the chances of the others to find perfect peace and happiness in this magical fairyland. On the surface Shangri-La may seem to be all fluffy bunnies, group hugs and Kumbaya by the campfire but to George it looks like a soul-destroying nightmare. George is the character we’re supposed to disapprove of, which might be why he’s the only character for whom I felt any sympathy at all.

That’s not to say that this movie doesn’t have its virtues. It’s visually magnificent. The crew never left California but the movie manages to convince us we really are in a lost world somewhere in the Himalayas. The film uses a mixture of location shooting in California, miniatures shots, process shots and matte paintings. Many scenes were filmed in an ice warehouse to create an authentic atmosphere of extreme cold. It all works superbly. The lamasery itself is interesting. It looks like a Tibetan monastery designed by a modernist architect. If Le Corbusier had designed lamaseries they would have looked like this. This actually works quite well - after all Shangri-La is an imaginary place.

Ronald Colman tries hard and is a charming as ever but he never quite convinces me that the hard-headed diplomat who hopes to be Foreign Secretary one day could actually fall for all this universal brotherhood stuff. The performance just doesn’t quite ring true. John Howard doesn’t really have the acting chops to pull off his role as Conway’s brother. Jane Wyatt looks lovely but Sondra still comes across as an irritatingly na├»ve teenager with all the ignorance and arrogance of youth. Sam Jaffe is truly cringe-inducing as the High Lama. He’s trying to convey idealism and spirituality but to me he seems merely foolish and sanctimonious. Edward Everett Horton and Thomas Mitchell are there to provide comic relief but they end up being the best things about the movie.

My fairly old (late 1990s) DVD copy offers an almost complete print of a movie that had been hacked to pieces by the studio for re-release in the 40s. Image quality is extremely variable, this print being assembled from various sources. There are however plenty of quality extras. 

Lost Horizon is worth seeing for the very impressive visuals. Whether you actually enjoy the story is a matter of taste. It’s a well-made movie but it’s definitely not my cup of tea.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Venetian Bird (1952)

Venetian Bird (released in the US as The Assassin) is a taut private eye/spy thriller with just a dash of film noir to add a little extra flavour. This 1952 British production is typical of the superb thrillers made in quantity by the British film industry in that period.

Richard Todd plays Edward Mercer, an English private detective doing a routine job for a French legal firm. He’s looking for a man named Renzo Uccello, a man who was last heard of during the war. It’s not a very important job but it does take Mercer to Venice and that suits him - he’s the sort of man who finds it hard to settle down in peacetime. During the war he’d been a British agent operating in Italy and his work had involved, among other things, assassination. His wartime career will later prove to be important in plot terms.

He follows the usual methods employed in trying to find people. He places advertisements in the local newspapers offering a reward for anyone who comes forward with information as to Uccello’s present whereabouts. A man answers the ad and Mercer arranges to meet him. The following day the man is found floating dead in one of the canals. This certainly seems to suggest that this case might not be quite as routine as it appeared.

The trail leads Mercer to Adriana Medova (Eva Bartok), a rather classy and glamorous woman who works for a leading art gallery, designing tapestries. These are high art tapestries and very expensive. The gallery is owned by the wealthy and powerful Count Boria (Walter Rilla). Mercer is not sure what the connection with Uccello might be but he is pretty sure there is one.

Chief of Police Spadoni (George Coulouris) takes a considerable interest in Mercer’s activities. He is aware of Mercer’s wartime record. He is also aware of certain facts about Renzo Uccello. The combination of these two circumstances suggests to Spadoni that it would be advisable for him to keep a very close watch on Mercer’s investigation. He assigns one of his undercover men (played by John Gregson) to do just that.

Mercer soon makes his own rather startling discoveries about Renzo Uccello. There is a great deal at stake - in fact the very future of Italian democracy. And, inevitably, Mercer starts to fall in love with Adriana.

Richard Todd was always a reliable actor. This particular role possibly needed someone who was a bit more of an obvious tough guy but Todd does succeed in making Mercer convincingly dogged and he makes him a sympathetic hero. Eva Bartok and John Gregson are also very solid, as they usually were. George Coulouris is excellent as Spadoni, a hardheaded but essentially decent cop faced with a case that is very much bigger than anything he’s ever had to deal with before. Sid James is fun as an Italian mortician. Since this is Sid James and he’s playing a mortician you might expect him to be there for comic relief but in the early part of his career he played a lot of straight dramatic roles. He does however play the part with a twinkle in his eye and he has the opportunity to ham it up just a little.

Director Ralph Thomas had a lengthy, successful and extremely varied career. He was the sort of director best described as a highly skilled artisan, being able to handle just about any genre. He’s in complete control here, keeping things tight and nicely suspenseful and stylish in an unassuming and non-intrusive way. He’d helmed another superb thriller, The Clouded Yellow, a couple of years earlier so he knew his way around the thriller genre.

There’s a limited use of stock footage but also some actual location shooting in Venice and the movie makes very good use of its exotic setting. Even the process shots are very well done. 

While there’s a political conspiracy at the centre of the story it’s used as an engine to drive the plot and mercifully the audience is not bludgeoned with clumsy political propaganda.

The Region 2 DVD is typical of the releases from Strawberry Media - no extras but a superb transfer and at a very reasonable price. 

Venetian Bird is a well-crafted and very polished thriller. Highly recommended.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Double or Nothing (1937)

Paramount’s 1937 Bing Crosby musical Double or Nothing is all froth and bubble but it’s delightful froth and bubble.

Eccentric millionaire Axel Clark dies, having made a rather bizarre will. Alex and his cynical  grasping brother Jonathan had always disagreed on human nature. Axel insisted that most people are fundamentally honest and fairly smart. Jonathan always insisted that most people are crooks and fools. Axel’s will is designed to put this question to the test and settle the matter once and for all. His lawyers are instructed to leave twenty-five wallets lying on the streets, each wallet containing a hundred dollar bill. The wallet contains the address of Axel’s lawyers. Anyone who is honest, on finding one of the wallets, will naturally return it to the lawyers. Out of the twenty-five people who find the wallets four are honest enough to show up at the lawyers’ office. These four are aspiring singer Lefty Boylan (Bing Crosby), small-time shady businessman John Pederson (William Frawley), former burlesque artiste Liza Lou Lane (Martha Raye) and harmless deadbeat Half Pint (Andy Devine).

When they get to the lawyers’ office they are presented with a reward of $5,000 each and a proposal. They have 30 days in which to double the $5,000. The first one of them to do so will inherit the whole of Axel’s estate, amounting to around a million dollars. If none of them succeed in doing so then Jonathan Clark will inherit the estate. The only proviso is that they must double the money honestly.

At this point Pederson comes up with a plan - the four of them should work together and if any of them is able to double their $5,000 the four of them will split the estate evenly. The lawyers agree that there is nothing in the will to prevent their working together in this way.

Needless to say Axel Clark’s greedy relatives are not too pleased by this. Led by Jonathan they plan to sabotage the quartet’s efforts.

Of course there has to be a romance angle, which is provided by Jonathan Clark’s daughter Vicki (Mary Carlisle). Left falls hopelessly in love with Vicki, not knowing that she is working against him and his partners.

Lefty, Half Pint, Liza Lou and Pederson all come up with ingenious if half-baked ideas for doubling their money. Pederson buys a gold mine which naturally tuns out to be worthless. Liza Lou buys a rowing boat concession. Her idea is that people will pay to be rowed about the lake by beautiful girls (her former chums from the burlesque world). he figures this will be very popular with sailors and that when the fleet is in she will clean up. This might have worked except for one weakness of Liza Lou’s - whenever she hears a certain piece of music she has a flashback to her burlesque days and starts doing a strip-tease. In public. Which of course gets her arrested.

Half Pint buys a golf range. His idea is to put up most of his money ($4,000) as prize money. People can buy three shots for a dollar and anyone who gets a hole-in-one wins the $4,000. If he’s unlucky someone will succeed in doing so and he’ll be ruined but if he’s lucky he just might turn his $5,000 into the necessary $10,000. Surprisingly enough Half Pint’s idea looks like it might succeed.

Lefty puts his money into a night-club. All he has to do is to put on a good enough show and showbiz entrepreneur Nick Praxitales will sink $10,000 into the business, which will qualify Lefty to inherit the estate. Lefty will discover that a night-club can be just as risky an investment as gold mines, golf ranges and girl-crewed rowing boats. And such risky investments are even riskier when there is someone as conniving behind the scenes as Jonathan Clark, constantly working on ways to sabotage their efforts.

Musicals can usually get away with rather slight plots. In this case the plot is more than adequate to sustain the movie as long as the other ingredients are there - reasonable musical numbers, likeable characters and a sufficient quantity of laughs. Double or Nothing has no problems in any of these areas.

Bing Crosby deploys his usual effortless cool combined with charm, and of course he was always quite adept at light comedy. Martha Raye can be a bit excessive but here she’s quite funny. Andy Devine plays himself, as likeably as he always did. Crosby, Raye and Devine shoulder most of the load as far as comedy is concerned and they are more than equal to the challenge. Mary Carlisle is a little on the bland side but perfectly adequate. William Frawley is solid although he doesn’t get much to do. Samuel S. Hinds as Jonathan is a villain the audience will love to hate.

The songs are generally quite good and Crosby is in fine voice.

The most pleasant surprise is that this movie is really quite funny. Maybe not rolling in the aisles funny but still consistently amusing. 

Double or Nothing is included in Universal’s five-movie Bing Crosby Screen Legend DVD boxed set. There are no extras but the transfer is excellent and the set itself is great value (this set also includes the rather charming Waikiki Wedding).

This is a feelgood movie but it’s feelgood without resorting to sentimentality. The whole thing is executed with a very pleasing lightness of touch. The result is an unassuming but thoroughly delightful movie. Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Murder Without Crime (1950)

Murder Without Crime, released in 1950, was J. Lee Thompson’s first directing assignment. He wrote the screenplay as well, based on his own stage play, and it’s a top-notch little British B noir.

Derek Farr plays Stephen, a moderately successful writer. Stephen and his wife Jan (Patricia Plunkett) live in a rather swanky flat. Their landlord Matthew (Dennis Price) lives downstairs. Stephen and Jan have just had a fight, with Jan suspecting that Stephen has been chasing other women. Jan walks out and Stephen heads for a night club to drown his sorrows. He and Matthew head for Matthew’s favourite hangout, the Tenerife. Matthew introduces Stephen to Grena (Joan Dowling), one thing leads to another and Stephen accompanies her back to her flat. Stephen is feeling sorry for himself but he still loves Jan and he doesn’t really want to be unfaithful but Grena proves to be hard to get rid of. In fact she follows him back to his own flat and that’s where Stephen’s nightmare begins.

After a drunken scuffle Stephen finds himself with a corpse on his hands. Of course he could call the police. The worst he could expect would be a manslaughter charge and in fact there’s a reasonably good chance a coroner’s jury would accept the matter as an accidental death. But of course characters in film noir always manage to convince themselves that “nobody would believe me” and they always make the mistake of trying to  cover up their crime. The problem is that Matthew, being a suspicious sort of fellow, has a pretty fair idea of what happened so Stephen’s hopes of quietly disposing of the body are quickly dashed.

The core of the film is the ensuing battle of wits between Stephen and Matthew, with Matthew not quite concern he has the goods on Stephen and Stephen not quite certain how much Matthew knows. Thompson throws in some clever and rather nasty little plot turns and the result is a fascinating psychological thriller with some very string film noir overtones.

There are some obvious similarities, in both style and content, to Hitchcock’s Rope although Thompson’s original play predates Hitchcock’s movie by a decade. Murder Without Crime is, not surprisingly considering its stage play source, very stagey. That is often a bad thing in a film but sometimes it can be an asset, as it is here. It gives the film an effectively claustrophobic feel. It’s all very dialogue-heavy but that works in its favour as well. It is after all essentially a battle of wits and wills.

It works in large measure because the performances of Derek Farr and Dennis Price make it work. Farr’s Stephen is all passive-aggressive self-pity. Even though he got himself into the mess by fooling around behind his wife’s back he still convinces himself he’s the innocent victim of pure bad luck. Matthew is languid, dissolute and cynical with a definite sadistic edge combined with a touch of masochism and a self-pity equal to Stephen’s. It’s the sort of role one could imagine George Sanders having fun with but to be honest I doubt that even Sanders could have topped Dennis Price’s performance.

Joan Dowling does the femme fatale bit, and does it well, but the focus is very much on Stephen and Matthew.

The one false note is struck by an intrusive voiceover narration which seems to be intended to give the movie a black comedy feel but serves only to irritate.

This was not a big budget movie but the sets are quite impressive, adding a touch of both glamour and decadence. Lots of low-angle shots and Dutch angles contribute to the fel of a situation spinning more and more out of control.

Network DVD’s region 2 DVD release offers an extremely good transfer. The DVD is barebones but pleasingly inexpensive.

Murder Without Crime is hugely enjoyable. Dennis Price is an actor who deserves a lot more recognition than he gets and this is a chance to see him at the top of his game. A first-class British crime thriller. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Morning Departure (1950)

The 1950 British production Morning Departure (released in the US under the excruciating title Operation Disaster) is a  submarine movie but it’s not a war movie. It all takes place during peacetime but it is in my humble opinion the best submarine movie ever made.

The submarine HMS Trojan leaves port early in the morning to take part in a routine exercise. The crew know that they will be home in time for tea. Or at least that’s what they think. What they haven’t counted on is an old wartime mine. The mine explodes and the Trojan sinks in 90 feet of water.

Twelve men survive, trapped in the stricken submarine. There are ways of escaping from a submarine in such circumstances but this turns out to be not so easy as might have been hoped. The submarine has been located and a full-scale rescue operation is mounted. The prospects for the survivors are by no means hopeless, as long as the weather holds and as long as nothing goes wrong with the rescue operation. The weather however may not hold. This will be a race against time.

This is a very British movie. It’s certainly not an action movie. What it lacks in action it more than makes up for in suspense and human drama.

John Mills plays the Trojan’s captain, Lieutenant Commander Armstrong. John Mills seemed to pop up in most British submarine movies, possibly because he was simply so good at playing brave but sympathetic officers.

Richard Attenborough shares top billing, playing Stoker Snipe. Snipe is a submariner who suffers from claustrophobia. It’s the sort of part Attenborough was particularly good at - playing a man who must confront his fears. Nigel Patrick is the Trojan’s First Lieutenant, Lieutenant Manson, a man whose naval career once seemed very bright but has now turned to a kind of melancholy disappointment. James Hayter as Able Seaman Higgins provides some comic relief (which is luckily handled well and not overdone). Bernard Lee (another specialist in naval officer and similar roles) is Commander Gates, in charge of the rescue operation. Look out for Kenneth More in a small part.

While this is not a war movie it did require some moderately ambitious underwater sequences and while it’s not a lavish production it certainly never looks cheap.

While there’s plenty of suspense this is really a character-driven movie. The survivors discover things about themselves, both good and bad. Some react surprisingly well to the crisis while others find that the situation pushes them to the limits and possibly beyond. They are brave men but even the bravest of men can only stand so much.

The always reliable Roy Ward Baker does a fine job as director. The movie was based on a stage play and this combined with the confined setting could have resulted in an excessively talky and static film. It is of course intentionally and necessarily claustrophobic but it never becomes dull.

Shortly before the movie was released there was a real-life British submarine disaster, the loss of HMS Truculent. Consideration was given to withdrawing the movie but it was decided (rightly) to release it as a tribute to the submariners of the Royal Navy.

VCI’s Region 1 DVD offers a very pleasing transfer, with no extras. There is a Region 2 DVD, which I haven’t seen.

Morning Departure is typically low-key in a typically British sort of way. Men do heroic things but they don’t make a song and dance about it. They deal with a terrifying situation as best they can. They are frightened but they do their best to face their fears. Some succeed better than others. There are times when it looks like someone is going to let the side down. They are men, not machines. They struggle to overcome their fears but the actors don’t have to emote all over the decks to convey these inner struggles. Richard Attenborough gets a bit edgy, as he usually did, but he doesn’t overdo it. He knows how far to go. This is a well-made well-written film about men who may be facing death and it makes its points quietly and effectively. Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

55 Days at Peking (1963)

For a short period Samuel Bronston was the king of the epic movie. He built a formidable movie-making empire in Spain, only to see it all collapse within a few years. The problem was that Bronston had ambition and vision but his judgment was not always all that it might have been and his business methods were, to put it charitably, unconventional and insanely risky. He did however manage to produce one of the finest epics ever made, El Cid, in 1961. El Cid had a great story, an intelligent script, a charismatic star (Charlton Heston) and in the person of Anthony Mann a director who understood the epic genre. 55 Days at Peking, released two years later, has the same charismatic star but unfortunately it lacks the other qualities that made El Cid such a superb film. Having said that, it still offers considerable entertainment value.

The idea certainly had potential. In 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion the foreign legations of the great powers in Peking found themselves under siege with only a handful of soldiers  to defend them. The political background to these events is mind-numbingly complex and although the script tries to fill in enough of the backstory to make the tale comprehensible it’s likely that many viewers will still be rather perplexed.

Suffice to say that when it is clear there is going to be major trouble the leader of the British legation, Sir Arthur Robertson (David Niven), persuades the other foreign legations to stand firm and stay put. It’s a courageous decision although whether it’s wise or not may be debated. 

Major Matt Lewis (Charlton Heston) commands the US Marines defending the American legation. For the purposes of the movie Robertson and Lewis became the mainstays of the epic defence.

While trying to fight off massed attacks by Boxers Lewis also has some personal complications to deal with. He falls in love with the Russian Baroness Natalie Ivanoff (Ava Gardner), a woman of great beauty but with a dubious moral reputation. He also has to figure out what to do with Teresa (Lynne Sue Moon), an eleven-year-old half-Chinese girl who is the daughter of one of his Marines.

The love story between Lewis and the Baroness doesn’t really work. Ava Gardner was a talented actress but could be difficult to work with (to put it mildly) and she and Heston did not hit it off.  This may be the reason that the chemistry between them just isn’t there. It’s also fairly clear that while the writers wanted a romance they weren’t really clear how they wanted it to develop and they really had no idea what to do with Gardner’s character.

David Niven wasn’t thrilled by the script either but he does his best in a rather awkward role. Robertson has to be stubborn and stiff-necked, and also brave and noble, and also troubled by self-doubts. It’s to Niven’s credit that his understated and dignified performance works quite well.

The problem for Charlton Heston was, once again, the muddled script. Heston ends up having to rely entirely on charisma, which luckily he has in abundance.

The supporting players are in some ways more fortunate. Their roles being less central to the story meant that writers Philip Yordan and Bernard Gordon had fewer opportunities to mess things up for them. Harry Andrews, one of the great British character actors, has plenty of fun with his role as a resourceful priest. Australian Robert Helpmann always enjoyed himself playing perfidious or sinister characters and he makes Prince Yuan, the man pulling the strings of the Boxers, delightfully sly and malevolent. Flora Robson does fairly well as the dowager empress, a woman who knows her country is in crisis but who also knows that she has few good options.

Nicholas Ray was signed to direct but left the production under something of a cloud. Guy Green took over but soon followed Ray out the door, with Andrew Marton eventually finishing the picture. Given that this was a massive and unwieldy production to start with the constant turnover of directors obviously contributed to the film’s rather ramshackle structuring. Ray was an overrated director with no experience making this sort of picture and was possibly a poor choice in the first place. One can’t help thinking that if only Bronston had been able to persuade Anthony Mann to direct the results might have been much more satisfactory.

Despite these problems 55 Days at Peking does have some major strengths. Bronston built what was at the time the biggest standing set in cinematic history. The money spent on this project was astronomical and it has to be said that it was, from the point of view of spectacle, money well spent. The sets really are magnificent. The costumes are exquisite. Everything looks real because it was real. That was the Samuel Bronston way. He had no interest in trying to achieve spectacle by using matte paintings or miniatures. If he needed a whole city for a movie then he built the city. This approach paid off. Visually this movie is breath-taking.

And even with a creaky script there is still plenty of excitement.

There is no point in trying to impose modern values on a film like this. This is not a politically correct movie, but then history has an annoying habit of not always being politically correct. The characters behave in ways that were consistent with the moral values of their time. You can disagree with their actions but by their own lights they acted with courage and decency. And the movie was made the way movies were made in the early 60s. If you wanted someone to play a Chinese dowager empress you found someone who could handle the role. You didn’t worry about whether she was Chinese or not. That’s the way things were done in 1963.

Anchor Bay’s Region B Blu-Ray is superb. This is a movie that relies entirely on its visual impact and that absolutely has to be seen on Blu-Ray and on the biggest widescreen TV you can find. 

55 Days at Peking truly is the kind of movie they don’t make any more. It’s grandiose and it’s insanely extravagant and it celebrates old-fashioned heroism. With all its faults it’s thoroughly enjoyable. Recommended.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

One Hour with You (1932)

One Hour with You is the fourth of the Ernst Lubitsch musicals included in Criterion’s Eclipse series Lubitsch Musicals DVD boxed sets. I have to say that I’ve found this set to be a very mixed bag, but One Hour with You is not too bad.

Maurice Chevalier is Dr Andre Bertier, happily married to Colette (Jeanette MacDonald). Then Colette’s old friend Mitzi (Genevieve Tobin) arrives in town and sets out to seduce Andre. Andre is determined to resist her approaches, or at least he is for a while. Then he starts to weaken. Meanwhile Colette has convinced herself that he is really having an affair with Mademoiselle Martel (Josephine Dunn). To add to the fun and games Adolph (Charles Ruggles) is desperately pursuing Colette but with a conspicuous lack of success. The poor guy doesn’t realise he’s the comic relief character who never gets the girl.

Mitzi’s husband Professor Olivier (Roland Young) is fed up with Mitzi’s alley-cat morals and just want to get rid of her at any price (and I can’t say I blame him). He’s delighted by her pursuit of Andre because it finally gives him the chance to get the evidence he needs to divorce her.

There are the usual bedroom farce complications and misunderstandings interspersed with some fairly forgettable musical numbers.

Maurice Chevalier makes frequent asides directly to the audience, which I guess was fairly daring in 1932.

One Hour with You was actually supposed to be directed by George Cukor but Cukor proved to be so inept that Lubitsch had to take over. Cukor would go on to demonstrate his  leaden touch for comedy in disasters like Holiday (1938). We can be thankful that Lubitsch took over when he did.

Of the four movies in the Lubitsch Musicals boxed set I found The Love Parade to be an absolute delight while I found Monte Carlo and The Smiling Lieutenant to be quite a chore to sit through. The big problem is Maurice Chevalier. He thinks he’s charming and irresistible but to me he’s irritating, smarmy and obnoxious and the characters he plays are   unpleasant, cruel and manipulative. Maybe women in the 1930s liked him. Maybe women still do. Maybe he’s just the sort of man that other men instinctively detest. Or perhaps it’s just me.

I’m also not entirely sold on the famous Lubitsch Touch. I know we’re supposed to admire his “European sensibility” and his allegedly sophisticated approach to immorality. I have liked a few Lubitsch movies. Trouble in Paradise is great fun, as is Ninotchka, but I’m unconvinced that Lubitsch was a genius.

I’m also increasingly bored by the whole “isn’t adultery clever and fun” thing in pre-code movies. If that’s European sophistication then I’m afraid that to me it just looks rather sad, and rather nasty. And that’s one of the problems I have with these Lubitsch musicals - there’s an underlying viciousness to them.

One Hour with You does have its diverting moments and even Maurice Chevalier is amusing at times. Jeanette MacDonald is energetic even if her character is quite unbelievable. The idea of having some of the dialogue in rhyming couplets is quite clever. Genevieve Tobin is annoying as the awful Mitzi. Roland Young and Charles Ruggles are the standout performers with Young being especially good.

One Hour with You was the last of Lubitsch’s Paramount musicals. The Astaire-Rogers musicals and the Warner Brothers musicals such as 42nd Street were just around the corner and would soon make the Lubitsch musicals look like creaky museum pieces.

The DVD transfer is very grainy, which is the case with all four movies in this set. That doesn’t usually bother me too much - a bit of grain really doesn’t hurt a black-and-white image and can even be an asset. In this case though the picture is very grainy indeed. Those who like crystal clear images will be quite disappointed by the transfers in this set, especially considering the price. There are no extras on the discs although there are mildly informative liner notes. As is so often the case with Criterion you’re paying a premium price for strictly average quality, or in this case for distinctly below average quality. This set is very poor value for money.

One Hour with You is very lightweight and intermittently entertaining. Jeanette MacDonald fans will enjoy her spirited performance. Worth a rental if you can tolerate Maurice Chevalier.