Directed by: Ernst Lubitsch
Starring: Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Charlie Ruggles, Roland Young, Genevieve Tobin
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Ernst Lubitsch’s One Hour With You is that it’s only one of the three films he put out in 1932—and that’s not counting the episode he contributed to the multi-director portmanteau film If I Had a Million. In addition, it is—along with the other two—part of what makes 1932 a prime candidate for the best year the movies ever had. One Hour With You—Lubitsch’s second film to team Maurice Chevaler and Jeanette MacDonald—is a remake of his 1924 The Marriage Circle, and it’s exactly the sort of ultra-sophisticated comedy for which the filmmaker was famous. It’s also the kind of film that couldn’t have been made two years later once the production code went into force. You see, the code folks had this idea that adultery simply could not be funny. Lubitsch et cie, of course, thought otherwise and prove it.
Lubitsch hadn’t originally intended to direct One Hour With You. He was producing it and George Cukor was directing, but he wasn’t happy with what Cukor was getting, so he stepped in (the credits read “assisted by George Cukor”). It’s unclear how much of the film Cukor actually shot, but the whole thing is so clearly Lubitsch’s work that the point is moot. There’s only one voice in authority on the final product.
One Hour With You departs from Lubitsch’s earlier musical comedies in that it doesn’t deal with Ruritanian royalty, but takes place in a very modern Paris and focuses on Dr. Andre Bertier (Chevalier) and his wife Colette (MacDonald). They are a happily—and apparently very sexually active—married couple whom we first meet “making out” on a bench in the park. Trouble arises when Colette’s “best friend” Mitzi (Genevieve Tobin)—unhappily married to the equally unhappy Swiss Professor Olivier (Roland Young)—decides she at least wants a dalliance with Andre. Since Andre is a movie Frenchman—and Maurice Chevalier at that—he’s susceptible, despite his best efforts not to be. And while that might only be a little Gallic galavanting under most conditions, Prof. Olivier is in want of divorce evidence (“In Switzerland, they have a very curious law—if a man shoots his wife, they put him in jail”).
Apart from the fact that Colette also has an admirer—in the form of comedic Charlie Ruggles—that’s about all the plot there is. But the film transmutes it into pure movie gold of the most sophisticated kind. There are several unusual touches—not the least of which finds Chevalier addressing the audience on occasion. (This device is actually replicated on the American—though not the French—commercial records made in connection with the films.) Chevalier had sung directly to the audience in Lubitsch’s The Love Parade (1929), but this was the first time he’d actually talked to them. To add to it, at the very end of the film, MacDonald joins him in the device—and as near as I can determine, that’s the only time this has ever been done.
It’s fast-paced, witty, splendidly played, boasts at least three good songs—“One Hour With You,” “Oh! That Mitzi” and “What Would You Do?”—and a couple of passable ones, apart from indulging in the brief-lived fad for rhymed dialogue with “musical interpolations” on one occasion. The print being screened is from the UCLA restoration that was released on laserdisc in the 1990s, which duplicates the road-show print’s color tintings and includes the exit music. For some reason, the DVD release did not utilize this more appealing version, so this is something of a rarity.
The Asheville Film Society will screen One Hour With You Tuesday, Nov. 30, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville. Hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther. Hanke is the artistic director of the Asheville Film Society.