Saturday, January 3, 2015
Film Review: One Hour With You
*** 1\2 (out of ****)
Has there ever been a comedy more sophisticated, playful, charming or funny as "One Hour With You" (1932)? If there has been than it could only be another movie directed by the same man that directed this comedy/musical gem, the great Ernst Lubitsch.
"One Hour With You", along with the great Preston Sturges comedy "Unfaithfully Yours" (1948), represents two of the most important movies I ever saw growing up. Important because they shaped and influenced the type of movies I would make while attending Columbia College and the kind of stories I would write. Their humor and sensibilities reflected and matched my own. If I ever would become a famous filmmaker I would make movies like "One Hour With You".
One of the many things wrong with the movies of today is they lack guidelines. While, I would never be in favor of enforcing another production code, as was implemented in the 1930s until the late 60s, I must admit the movies of that era were smarter. The writers and directors behind these movies had to use their wits in order to have their movies get by the censorship board. Make no mistake about it, "One Hour With You" is a sex comedy but there is no nudity, no f-bombs in the dialogue, just a lot of sexual innuendos and double entendres. But that is the difference between movies such as this one and a contemporary rom-com of today. If "One Hour With You" were made today I can guarantee there would be a nude scene and a lot of four letter words in the script. Because there are no restrictions on the artist today, they can do whatever they want. A director like Ernst Lubitsch or Preston Sturges had to work within a system. I would prefer it if filmmakers today used some self-censorship and tried to rise above the least common denominator mentality.
Born in Berlin in 1892, Ernst Lubitsch had been involved in German cinema as far back as 1913. He came to America permanently in 1922 where he directed a few silent comedies. The best known among them is "The Marriage Circle" (1924) starring Adolphe Menjou. With the advent of sound Lubitsch began making charming, sometimes risque (for the times) musical comedies, several of which starred Maurice Chevalier. Those included Lubitsch's first sound film "The Love Parade" (1929), which co-starred Jeanette MacDonald and was nominated for a best picture Academy Award and earned Lubitsch a best director nomination as well, and "The Smiling Lieutenant" (1931) which co-starred Miriam Hopkins and a very young Claudette Colbert and was also nominated for a best picture Academy Award.
"One Hour With You" marked the last of Lubitsch's Paramount musical comedies. His next picture would be the equally charming and funny straight comedy, "Trouble in Paradise" (1932) also released by Paramount. "One Hour With You" is considered a remake of Lubitsch's "The Marriage Circle" and re-teams Chevalier and MacDonald as a happily married couple.
Chevalier plays a Parisian doctor, Andre Bertier. He has been married for three years to Colette (MacDonald). As the movie opens we see them in a park billing and cooing (making out). A police officer tells them they must leave, back in those days that type of public display of affection was considered shameful to engage in and indecent, but Andre tries to convince the policemen he is married to the women. The officer doesn't believe him. Who ever heard of a husband and wife making out in a park? Who ever heard of a husband and wife making out?
Through this opening sequence the movie is establishing Andre and Colette as a sexually activate couple. This was quite risque for the times. A movie such as this could not have been made after the production code was more strictly enforced. Hollywood would not show a couple, even if they were married, as being sexual. Fast forward 20 years later on the television show "I Love Lucy". Ricky and Lucy are married but did you ever notice they do not share a bed? In their bedroom there were two separate beds. So the fact that we see Andre and Colette making out, sharing a bed and talk about "making love", was ahead of its time. "One Hour With You" is pushing the envelope.
One night, while in bed, Colette excitedly tells Andre her best friend, Mitzi (Genevieve Tobin) is going to visit. Mitzi and Andre have never met. Mitzi is married herself to a professor, Prof. Olivier (Roland Young). The professor, having such a beautiful, young wife, naturally assumes she must be cheating on him and hires a detective to investigate and follow Mitzi. Mitzi, we learn, is not above cheating on her husband. Yet another element of the movie which pushes the envelope. Showing infidelity and not having the character be punished by the end of the movie was not done. There must have been a moral in place condemning such actions.
Unbeknownst to Andre and Mitzi, they met while flagging down a taxi in the rain. The two agree to split the taxi. Mitzi finds Andre attractive and makes a pass at him. Andre informs her he is married. Mitzi tells Andre she is married as well and then tells him would either of their spouses believe they split a taxi with a stranger of the opposite sex and nothing happened. Andre, perfectly understanding her point, exits the taxi immediately. When Andre returns home from the office, he finds Colette with Mitzi in his home. Now what?
And there you have the conflict of "One Hour With You"? Should Andre admit he met Mitzi earlier in a taxi? Should he admit Mitzi made a pass at him? Should he admit he was tempted to accept her offer?
In an attempt to understand Andre's mindset, the movie breaks the fourth wall and has Andre address the audience and sing songs expressing his predicament. So many younger movie fans, that don't quite appreciate the history of cinema, always wrongly assume the device of breaking down the fourth wall started in French cinema with the films of Jean-Luc Godard in the 1960s. Naturally they are wrong. Here is a movie which was released nearly 30 years prior. Oliver Hardy in Laurel & Hardy comedies of the 1930s & 40s would stare into the camera, acknowledging an audience is watching, though he never spoke directly to the camera. At most he would gasp. Bob Hope, another great comedian, would also address the audience and acknowledge he was acting in a movie and often suggest his performance should be nominated for an Academy Award.
Now while Andre is getting deeper and deeper involved with Mitzi, Colette is having her problem with Andre's best friend, Adolph (Charlie Ruggles) who professes a great love for Colette. At a dinner party being thrown, which both Mitzi and Adolph attend, Adolph confides in Colette, how desperately he would relish the opportunity to have one hour with her alone, hence the movie's title. At the same party, Mitzi and Andre get dangerously close to giving into temptation all while Prof. Olivier secretly watches on.
The issue of infidelity is not one that is new to comedy. "Unfaithfully Yours" deals with jealousy and wanting to kill your spouse as a result. What makes it such a reliable source for comedy is because it reflects human nature only events has escalated for comedic effect. It is funny seeing someone trying to schedule time with another person while their spouse is in the next room.
Though in the case of "One Hour With You" it is not often the issue is dealt with so directly. Even more shocking no one is punished. Here is a movie which tries to present itself not in the world of Hollywood but real life. The actions the characters take may in fact be what would happen in real life. And if not, if they represent a "movie logic", it is a logic we, the viewer, have often thought of ourselves, but, one which is not often presented in movie.
This is the strength of the movie. It has a magnificent screenplay written by Samson Raphaelson, who collaborated on several Lubitsch films including "The Smiling Lieutenant", "The Merry Widow" (1934) "The Shop Around the Corner" (1940) and "Heaven Can Wait" (1943). Each of every one of them is a smartly written comedy filled with clever lines and double entendres.
"One Hour With You" is sadly a forgotten work in the Ernst Lubitsch cannon of films. It gets lost in the shuffle. So many people like to only discuss "To Be Or Not To Be" (1942) or "Ninotchka" (1939). While both are fine films, it is disappointing people aren't able to praise more than two movies. This is a great comedy. A funny sex farce. A comedy way ahead of its time. A fine example of what Lubitsch was up to. All of his comedies were "adult", not in graphic context, but in maturity. It is no wonder this movie was also nominated for a best picture Academy Award.