Thursday, February 16, 2012

Film Reviews: Bluebeard's Eighth Wife & I Met Him In Paris

"Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" *** (out of ****)

Claudette Colbert and Gary Cooper prove money can buy you love in "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" (1938), a charming Ernst Lubitsch comedy.

Today we going to discuss two Claudette Colbert comedies from the late 1930s. In both movies Colbert plays a similar character; a good natured, down to earth, girl-next-door type. A kind of all-American girl with morals which reflect society's standards.

The earliest screen works of Colbert, which I have seen, are another Ernst Lubitsch comedy, "The Smiling Lieutenant" (1931) and the Cecil B. DeMille epic "The Sign of the Cross" (1932). I would suggest Colbert really gained "star" status after appearing in Frank Capra's Oscar winning romantic comedy, "It Happened One Night" (1934). After that film she began to appear in some of her best known films and a few lesser known, but, equally charming comedies such as "It's A Wonderful World" (1939) with Jimmy Stewart, a sort of knock-off version of "It Happened One Night". She was also in "Midnight" (1939) and the "I Met Him In Paris" (1937, more on this below). And she was in one of Preston Sturges' best comedies "The Palm Beach Story" (1942). Like "Bluebeard", that was also a comedy about marriage and love.

In "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" Gary Cooper plays Michael Brandon, a millionaire visiting the French Riviera on business. He walks into a department store looking to buy pajamas, but, he only wants the top. He doesn't wear the bottom and sees no reason why he should have to pay for it. The store simply will not allow this. Whether or not a customer wears the pajamas as whole is not important to the store. It is a set and must be bought as such. Enter Nicole De Loiselle (Colbert). It just so happens she is only interested in buying the bottom half of the pajamas. Problem solved. He'll pay for the top and she'll pay for the bottom.

The two instantly fall for each other at first sight. And I must admit it is a clever way for the future lovers to meet. I don't believe I've ever seen a set-up like this one before. She doesn't realize he is rich and he's not sure if she is married. Why would a woman need to buy men's pajamas in the first place?

It just so happens Nicole's father is Marquis De Loiselle (Edward Everett Horton) who is down on his luck, meaning he is broke and is simply living off his title. But even that is running out. It was for him Nicole bought the pajamas. The Marquis thinks of himself as a business man and has been trying to get into contact with Michael. When Michael finds out who he is, a business proposal is made. Michael wants to marry Nicole. The problem is Michael has been married seven times before (hence the film's title). This is a deal-breaker for Nicole. Michael doesn't seem to take marriage serious. He makes haste decisions, loses interest and thinks the problem can be solved with money. Nicole agrees to marry Michael but only if he will pay her $100,000 a year, for the rest of her life, if they divorce. Michael agrees and Nicole looks forward to the divorce.

A lot of viewers feel "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" is a lesser Lubitsch attempt. That it should be avoided. I wouldn't go that far. I don't think it ranks among Lubitsch's best films but I would never suggest someone should avoid watching an Ernst Lubitsch film, unless of course, watching good movies isn't your cup of tea.

I have to admit there were plenty of times I found myself laughing out loud. The script, which was written by the comedy team of Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder (which explains a lot) is peppered with some great zingers and one-liners. Wilder was a great admirer of Lubitsch and greatly looked forward to the day when he could write a script for Lubitsch.

But the movie lacks that famous "Lubitsch touch" as it came to be called. Lubitsch, early in his Hollywood career, was making sophisticated musical comedies. Movies which were playful about sex and marriage. They were pre-code films but weren't explicit. They danced around issues, never being direct, but, the implications were made clear. Some examples are "Monte Carlo" (1930), my personal favorite of his musicals, "The Smiling Lieutenant" and "One Hour With You" (1932). Next there was my all-time favorite Lubitsch film, "Trouble in Paradise" (1932) a non-musical, but a film which played with the same ideas as his musicals. It was playful and adult. "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" just doesn't seem to be on par with these titles. I'd put the film in the same class with other, later Lubitsch efforts like "That Lady in Ermine" (1948, which I have reviewed) and "Cluny Brown" (1946).

One issue may have been because Wilder and Lubitsch have a different type of humor. Wilder's humor isn't, normally, as playful as Lubitsch. It can sometimes be in a similar vein, "The Major & The Minor" (1942) or "Some Like It Hot" (1952) but more often than not Wilder can be a bit more direct and at times vulgar. Wilder and Lubitsch would have much greater success on their next effort, "Ninotchka" (1939), often regarded as one of Lubitsch's best comedies. That one, without question, has that famous "Lubitsch touch".

By the time this film was made Gary Cooper had already proven himself as an accomplish actor. One of his best early roles is in the film "Morocco" (1930) a suggestive, powerful pre-code gem. There was also "A Farewell to Arms" (1932) and the Capra comedy "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town" (1936). Though it was probably after this film Cooper appeared in some of his best known films; "Sergeant York" (1941), "The Pride of the Yankees" (1942), "Ball Of Fire" (1941, also written by Wilder), "For Whom The Bell Tolls" and the great western "High Noon" (1952).

In this film Cooper isn't a great lover type, a role Wilder would give him on a later collaboration, "Love in the Afternoon" (1957), but I don't really think he plays the same kind of character he plays in "Mr. Deeds" or "Ball of Fire", the sort of good-natured, Earnest young man.

The film has a good supporting cast besides Edward Everett Horton there is David Niven, as a close friend of Colbert, Frank Pangborn, as a hotel manager, and Warren Hymer as a boxer. The name may not mean anything to you, but, trust me, you've seen his face before.

Overall, while not a great comedy "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" is enjoyable. It is the kind of good, old-fashion comedy I grew up watching. While I greatly admire the work of Ingmar Bergman or Luchino Visconti, this is really more my style.

"I Met Him In Paris" *** (out of ****)

Can a man and woman really be friends without romance getting in the way? It's the age old question that is asked in the goofy comedy "I Met Him In Paris" starring Claudette Colbert, Melvyn Douglas and Robert Young.

As I said about "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife", these type of comedies are more my style. I grew up watching classic Hollywood movies and comedies from these era. I get the humor and relate to the moral code presented in these movies. They reflect my own moral code. I understand them better then today's movies. Most of us old-timers are the same way.

Claudette Colbert plays Kay Deham, a woman who is loved by a man (Lee Bowman) whom she finds boring. They live in New York and Kay decides she wants to travel to Paris before making any decision about marrying.

While in Paris, Kay meets two Americans; George Potter (Douglas) and Gene Anders (Young). Both seem to take an immediate liking to Kay but Gene makes the greater effort and Kay responds more to him. But Gene can't ultimately commit himself. Not because he's a man and all men are afraid of commitment ladies. He has a secret that only George knows.

In an attempt to romance Kay, Gene suggest they leave Paris and head to Switzerland. Where they can have some good, clean fun. And in order to make sure they do exactly that George follows them and assumes the role of chaperon. But can a man and woman bet together without feeling an attraction? And who are Kay and Gene fooling? We can tell they like each other.

I don't think it is a spoiler but Gene is married. George cannot allow Gene to compromise himself and get involved with another woman. Most of today's viewers may not believe this, but, at one time such things were frowned upon.

So most of the comedy comes from George preventing Gene and Kay from spending time together. And we can tell George has fallen for Kay. So, each man tries to spend as much time alone with her as possible. It is an old story of two male friends fighting over the same girl. Example of this set-up can even be found today, look at the new movie "This Means War" (2012). But "I Met Him In Paris" isn't vulgar. It is actually a smarter film.

A lot of scenes involve skiing and snow time sport activities. Which made me think Sonja Henie should have been casted in this movie instead of Colbert. Henie was a famous skater who appeared in a few movies over at Fox.

The movie was directed by Wesley Ruggles who directed another movie where two men fight over the same woman, "Too Many Husbands" (1940) which was a remake of "My Favorite Wife" (1940). Ruggles also directed "True Confession" (1937, which I have reviewed), "I'm No Angel" (1932), my favorite Mae West comedy and "No Man of Her Own" (1932).

"I Met Him In Paris" is funny, though I think I laughed more at "Bluebeard". Still, the film is playful and has some good acting by Douglas and Colbert. I've never been a huge fan of Robert Young, best known for his role in the TV show "Father Knows Best". He was in some good movies like "Sitting Pretty" (1948, which is the first film to feature the character Mr. Belvedere), "Crossfire" (1947) and the Alfred Hitchcock film "Secret Agent" (1936). But I think another Robert would have been better in "I Met Him In Paris", Robert Montgomery.