Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Maurice Chevalier

By an odd coincidence, the last three best picture nominees I’ve watched have all starred Maurice Chevalier. Researching him on IMDb, I realized I have seen him in at least two other movies, but as an older man in Fanny (1961) and best picture winner Gigi (1958). I knew without looking what character he played in Gigi. Every time I see that title, I hear his almost comically think French accent singing “thank Heaven for little girls.”

These three earlier pictures were all directed by Ernst Lubitsch and definitely have a similar tone – light, fun, musical-esque, and surprisingly sexy. Chevalier is basically the exact same character in all three films. Think of him as a toned down version of Pepe Le Pew. Indeed, I was convinced the famous skunk must be modeled on Chevalier’s film persona and while wikipedia does mention that as a common theory, it has never been officially confirmed.

I don’t know if there exists research or opinions on this, but I have noticed that movies from the early 1930s were more risqué than were movies from the 40s and 50s. The innuendo seems a little less subtle and the women are shown in negligees that seem startling revealing for 80 years ago.

In The Love Parade (1929), Chevalier marries a queen only to be torn between wanting to be a commanding husband and a subservient subject at the same time. In One Hour With You (1932), he plays a happily married man whose wife’s best friend tries to coax him into an affair. The movie’s title refers slyly to what a man and woman might be able to do with an hour alone together. And in The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), Chevalier is the titular officer whose smile and wink across the street to his girlfriend (Claudette Colbert) are intercepted by a princess riding by in procession. Offended at first, the princess and her royal father assume the lieutenant wants to marry the princess and arrange the wedding at once.

This has been yet another example of the wonderful discoveries I’ve unearthed while eating my movie vegetables. After watching Love Parade, it didn’t occur to me that either Chevalier or Lubitsch were worth noting. Now, while I don’t consider these great movies necessarily, I am a fan of both men. Lubitsch won an honorary Oscar in 1947 “for his distinguished contributions to the art of the motion picture” and Chevalier won his own in 1958 “for his contributions to the world of entertainment for more than half a century.”

97 to go…

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