Monte Carlo (Ernst Lubitsch / U.S., 1930):

The "Day of Love" ceremony is dampened, first by a downpour and then by a Dear John letter that leaves the Prince (Claud Allister) warbling "She’ll Love Me and Like It" to an unconvinced audience. The runaway bride is a headstrong Countess (Jeanette MacDonald), down to her last francs and on her way to Monte Carlo. "Beyond the Blue Horizon," her famous song of emancipation, is a veritable lesson in montage absorbed by Clair, Mamoulian and Duvivier, yet escape is never a real option -- defined by manners and class strictures, the tragedy of Ernst Lubitsch’s characters is that they can head to the Riviera but never allow themselves to surrender to the roulette the way Demy’s dreamers do. The pose must be maintained, the penniless noblewoman holds on to the swanky boudoir, marriage is a business transaction: "I’ll build you castles, dear, beyond compare / I fear you’re building castles in the air." Her suitor (Jack Buchanan) is a girl-chasing blueblood who infiltrates MacDonald’s chamber by posing as a hairdresser, wins her affection by massaging her scalp, and serenades her past the classic Lubitsch door. The technique advances on The Love Parade’s silken experiments to capture the afterglow of a date or the way the heroine falls asleep with a melody still on her lips; the camera cranes upwards to unite people in different floors in romantic thought, touch leaves MacDonald swooning over her divan ("That’s what you get for being nice to your servants"). Monsieur Beaucaire gives the finale its form, the untangling of emotions in tandem with an operatic plot from the vantage point of a theater balcony, and the gallant acknowledgement of the conventions that both enable and limit a happy ending. "A silly story, possible only with music," yet what despair it masks (Rohmer would offer a thorough analysis in The Marquise of O). Written by Ernest Vajda. With Zasu Pitts, Tyler Brooke, and John Roche. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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