|Released by Paramount Pictures | Directed By Ernest Lubitsch, assisted by George Cukor
Proof That It’s Pre-Code
- Petting in the park is a Parisian pastime.
- A husband and wife love having sex together. There is no subtlety in this proclamation.
- This painting is how we’re introduced to the film’s antagonist, Mitzi. When questioned about the painter, she winks, “One night I found out what an artist he was!”
- How old friends great each other:
- “I must show you my new lingerie!” “Too stunning for only a husband to see.”
- In a purely Lubitschian touch, Andre has a pajama top… but no pajama bottoms.
- Colette and Mitzi whisper something about Andre. The audience isn’t let it on it, so we can only imagine that it involves, *ahem*, some of Andre’s more personal attributes.
- Adolph dresses up as Romeo to go to his friends’ party, only to learn it’s formal dress. He asks his butler why he told him it was a costume party: “Ah, monsieur, I did so want to see you in tights!”
- When Colette isn’t showing off her lingerie, she’s walking around in it.
- “If you’re a Don Juan, then I’m a Cleopatra! What’s your one hour to my 25 minutes?”
One Hour With You: I Would, Too
“Now, gentlemen, as a doctor, let me ask you a personal question. When was the last time you took your wife to the park?”
One Hour With You is about the rocky road down towards inevitable infidelity. That it’s a glossy Paramount production with the names Lubitsch and Chevalier attached makes it an airy croissant of a comedy. Oh, and there’s singing, too. Can’t go wrong with that.
It opens with Chevalier as Andre, a Parisian doctor, spending some quality time with his wife Colette in a dark corner of the park. A police officer sputters– a married couple making love in the park? They are disappointed to be kicked out but still rather delighted to be heading back to the bedroom.
This takes us into the film’s first song, a charming ditty called, “What a Little Thing Like a Wedding Ring Can Do”. It’s a duet between MacDonald and Chevalier, made more playful by setting it in their matrimonial bed. The basis of the song is that the best part of being married is that no one can judge you for all the time you spend in bed together.
Ya know. Doin’ stuff.
All is not perfect in the bedroom, however, since Colette keeps turning on the light to tell Andre that her friend Mitzi has moved to Paris. Mitzi is trouble with a capital ‘T’, even if Colette doesn’t know it. Mitzi’s most recent marriage is a farce, and she has always been extraordinarily interested in spending her nights at home– as long as her husband isn’t around.
Mitzi is played by Genevieve Tobin, one of my favorites, and once again playing a man eater of the most delectable kind. Where other actresses vamp, Tobin uses her eyes. Her seductions are cunning, breaking down Andre’s defenses by insisting that he’s already compromised, and, if he isn’t, he soon will be, so why fight it? Her husband, Professor Oliver (Roland Young), is joyful in knowing that he will soon be ridding himself of Mitzi, making him unshakably content.
While Mitzi turns Andre’s head, Andre’s best friend Adolph is clumsily attempting to put the moves on Colette. Adolph is a pure Charlie Ruggles creation, an easily bamboozled romantic who wants to be dashing but is merely petulant. His romantic overtures turn into whines, and his attempts to sweep Colette off her feet always seems to happen right when she’s broken down crying. She suspects Andre of an affair at a dinner party the two of them hold, but has no proof, and, amusingly, suspects the wrong woman, a deception Mitzi is all too happy to exploit.
Things work themselves out, which I’ll get to a second, but there is a lot to the movie. At several points during the film, the action is stopped and Andre pulls the audience aside to consult and/or sing. Chevalier’s monologues serve not only as amusing, self-aware sides, but a conscious effort to include the audience in the playful chicanery. One musical number he asks directly, “I ask you what you would do? Heh, that’s what I did too.”. The audience is constantly brought in on all sides of the conflict with a nudge in the ribs. This method proves a way to disarm us from judging Chevalier and, naturally, to seduce us into the film’s playful view of sexual indiscretions.
That’s not that Andre takes them so lightly. Summoned to Mitzi’s house to tend to a sudden onset of a “sickness”, he only goes after Colette insists. The scene is played like a man sent off to his death, with a long kiss and a heavy handshake.
But he also understands how such attraction can’t be ignored. Mitzi is forthright and cunning, a woman who uses men for her unbridled sexual lust. The fact that Andre is her best friend’s husband only heightens her fascination; it’s to his credit that he’s weak enough to know he’s weak.
After a late night rendezvous at Mitzi’s apartment, Oliver has all the information he needs to send her packing back to her home in L.A. This scene plays as an amusing reversal of Chevalier’s earlier death march, with Mitzi waving goodbye as the conquering general, ready for her next campaign.
Because the film is so playful, it rarely runs into the darkness of what real infidelity can do to a happy couple. However, when Colette learns that Andre has indeed betrayed her trust, the light momentarily focuses on the very real consequences of his indiscretions.
She chooses to save face by revealing that Adolph has stayed behind after the party and seduced her. Half true, he did stay, though she politely rebuffed his advances (since an advance from Adolph is like a wailing child running into the room). He believes that she’s merely trying to spite him, and that his encouragements of Adolph’s confessions are what’s created the outpouring– not that any of it might have a grain of truth.
We know what really happened, that Adolph’s amorous feelings were real, and that what Andre laughs off as an impossibility something that may mask Colette’s real feelings. She’s generous to Adolph (her place card for Romeo was written and placed before she even had a hint at Andre’s affair), and though she’s obviously smitten with her husband, the feelings of kindness from Colette towards Adolph could very well have turned into a threat to the marriage as well– but only maybe if Adolph weren’t such a sap.
The look Andre produces when he realizes that his wife creating this affair saves their marriage is essentially perfect. No one comes out unscathed– Colette loses a bit of her faith and Andre remains ignorant– but both make the realization that a marriage isn’t just built on lovemaking. Trust must enter into the equation, as well as equality. Treat the other like you’d like to be treated– hell the final minute gives us both Andre and Colette speaking to the audience. Their passion reengaged, they close out the film a bit wiser, but, miraculously, no less in love.
The music in the picture is overall quite good. Chevalier’s “Oh, That Mitzi!” where he changes between waxing sweetly about his wife and wide-eyed awe at Mitzi’s gumption that’s exceedingly fun. Chevalier also shares a number with Tobin about what exactly she needs “three times a day”, which is, and pardon my french here, fucking hilarious. The film’s only forgettable number somehow turns out to be the title tune of “One Hour With You”, but it’s such a minor quibble I’ll forget it right after this sentence ends.
There are also several instances where the characters stumble into rhyming couplets rather than dialogue. It’s an interesting contrast, like the scene you’re watching is so happy and gay that it wants to take flight and start with the singing. A prelude to a climax, if you will, and then Chevalier arrives and belts out a tune with lighthearted glee.
The film’s sordidness is equally carried by Chevalier’s wide-armed charms and the film’s sense of irreverence. Chevalier himself has become the American ideal of a Frenchman– coy and playful but with an urge to make love that comes second to none. His rubber faced antics and ability to mix dread with desire make Andre’s dalliances palatable and, thankfully, very funny.
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Trivia & Links
- A remake of Lubitsch’s own silent comedy The Marriage Circle (1924).
- You may have noticed a bit of an oddity in the in director billing up top. At the time of the film’s production, Lubitsch was in charge of supervising George Cukor’s direction of One Hour With You. The two clashed, and different sources take different sides. Some say that Cukor was slow and missing the screenplay’s rhythm so Lubitsch took over and directed most of the movie. Others insist that Lubitsch saw how well the film was turning out and slapped his name on as the director. The whole mess led to a number of lawsuits; unless you’re deeply invested in the auteur theory, it doesn’t make much difference which one of them directed what portions of the movie, though on the whole I found its visual style to owe a lot more to Lubitsch than Cukor.
- Lubitsch would make only one other musical after this, 1934’s The Merry Widow, also with Chevalier and MacDonald.
- DVD Beaver has more screenshots from the film.
- David Blakeslee at CriterionCast writes about how the film deals with marriage, noting:
Without getting all mopey about it though, just as important as forgiveness and grace is the ability to keep a sense of humor and a light touch when it comes to managing the affairs of our hearts. Sure, the swift and painless resolution that brings One Hour With You to its happy moment of closure, this time with Jeanette and Maurice both addressing their female and male counterparts in the audience, is a little too convenient and tidy to be fully believable, but Lubitsch is far from being any kind of a realist when it comes to his movies. A cynical view of the film might see it as an apologetic for cheating, minimizing the hurt that extramarital affairs definitely cause – and that view gains credence when it’s noted that Lubitsch chose this plot, a remake of an early German silent titled The Marriage Circle he shot in 1924, during the aftermath of his own divorce. Still, even acknowledging the reality that so often falls short of our ideals, One Hour With You, like all the other jauntily amoral Lubitsch musicals, beats with a joyful, life-affirming intelligence that understands just what it is, that endless pursuit of desire’s sweet fulfillment, that gets our heart beating and keeps our blood pumping.
- Couldn’t find the trailer, but here’s a recording of Chevalier singing “Oh, That Mitzi!”:
Awards, Accolades & Availability
- This film appeared in the Wikipedia List of Pre-Code Films.
- (Very rightfully) nominated for Best Picture.
- This film is available in the Lubitsch Musicals Eclipse Collection along with The Love Parade, Monte Carlo, and The Smiling Lieutenant. You can pick it up over on Amazon.
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