Beginning in November 2019, I embarked on the Old Hollywood Best Picture Challenge, where I will endeavor to watch all 270 films that were nominated and/or won for Best Picture at the Academy Awards between the years 1927-1969. For a list of all films and reviews, please see my original post.
- Film & Year: The Love Parade (1929)
- Standing: Best Picture Nominee for 1929/30 season
- Type: Musical, Comedy, Romance, Pre-Code
- Other AA Nominations: Best Actor (Maurice Chevalier), Best Director (Ernst Lubitsch), Best Cinematography (Victor Milner), Art Direction (Hans Dreier), Sound Recording (Franklin Hansen)
- Other AA Wins: 0
- Director: Ernst Lubitsch
- Studio/Producer: Paramount Famous Lasky / Ernst Lubitsch
- Cast: Maurice Chevalier, Jeannette MacDonald, Lupino Lane, Lillian Roth, Eugene Pallette
- Production Notes: Cinematography by Victor Milner, Art Direction by Hans Dreier, Costumes by Travis Banton, Songs by Victor Schertzinger and Clifford Grey, Screenplay by Ernest Vajda and Guy Bolton
- Viewing Order: 10/270
Summary & Viewing Experience:
Count Alfred Renard (Maurice Chevalier), unabashed womanizer and military attaché to the (fictional) Sylvanian Embassy in Paris,returns to his country in disgrace after wind of his many dalliances in Paris with married women (including the ambassador’s wife) gets back to the ambassador. He is sent to none other than Queen Louise I of Sylvania (Jeannette MacDonald) to be reprimanded. Meanwhile, the Queen is unmarried and fine with it, though no one else is and her advisors and ladies in waiting all make it their business to push wedding bells at her at every opportunity. She wants none of it…until she meets the handsome Alfred.
Jeannette MacDonald makes for a saucy, pre-code poster girl version of a queen. Clearly the boss and with marcelled hair and cigarette, she smokes and reads over a report of Alfred’s indiscretions with amusement while he stands there and sweats it out. Though his exploits intrigue her more than anything, her position as queen demands he be “punished” in some manner. So Alfred is ordered to be her dinner date, beginning a romance that quickly takes a matrimonial spin. It is understood by all except Alfred that marriage to the queen means taking a backseat in the affairs of state as well as in the home. He gets a hint of this during their marriage ceremony as Louise’s marriage vows consist of her agreeing to protect him from danger, while his are “to fulfill her majesty’s every wish, to execute her majesty’s every command, and to be an obedient and docile husband.” He reluctantly agrees and they are married, but eventually he chafes at being emasculated and regulated to the sidelines and revolts.
MacDonald as the queen is full of fun and personality. It’s clear why she was such a favorite with audiences and hard to imagine that this was her film debut, so natural was she in playing to the camera without coming across as overly melodramatic. Neither her singing style (a soprano that’s a cross between impressively operatic and just plain shrill) or Chevalier’s (who tends to talk through his songs rather than sing them) is really my cup of tea and their songs together and solo were my least favorite ones of the film. The two best numbers were sung and performed by two of the supporting characters, Alfred’s manservant Jacques (Lupino Lane) and palace maid Lulu (Lillian Roth). If MacDonald and Chevalier together are hot, Lane and Roth are on fire, though their brand of chemistry was not as much sexual as it was exciting.
The pair, who also become romantically linked, bat eyes at each other, joke, brawl, and seem to have a heck of a lot of fun together. In their song “Let’s Be Common,” Lane and Roth are beyond hilarious and adorable as they express their joy at being common folk, able to fight and show their emotion, while the titled must keep it in for fear of judgement. To prove it, they wrestle gleefully on a bench then kick each other around and smooch amid pratfalls, pulled faces, and fancy footwork. Lane’s comedic timing and acrobatic skills are extraordinary while Roth manages to be both irresistibly cute and genuinely ferocious, as if Jean Harlow were put in a maid’s cap and injected with adrenaline.
While I had heard of both before this (Lupino Lane was from the famous Lupino acting family and uncle of Ida; Roth I vaguely knew had acted with Dorothy Lee, another adorable dynamo, in one of her later films), I hadn’t actually seen either perform. All I can say is WOW! I was quite disappointed to see that neither had much of a film career beyond the 1930s and didn’t do many films after this one. It’s a shame because their talent and appeal is each palpable and their scenes together were the highlights of the film.
(the musical number starts around 2 1/2 mins in)
Also adding fun to the cast is the wonderful frog voiced Eugene Pallette (known for playing the gruff and disapproving dad in My Man Godfrey) as the queen’s minister of war.
The film is genuinely funny with equal parts highbrow humor and physical comedy. It’s also quite sexy for 2019, let alone 1929. Chevalier and MacDonald have a chemistry that is helped along with a deluge of sexual innuendo and long, passionate kisses. First run audiences must have been steaming in their seats! Louise and Alfred’s first date is supposed to be dinner, but ends up being an unchaperoned make out session in her boudoir. Alfred’s proclivity as a lover and history with women (often married ones) comes up often and about half of Louise’s wardrobe is made up of strappy gowns and nighties.
Aside from love and sex, one of the main themes in The Love Parade is that of gender roles. The traditional husband and wife roles vs the unique situation of subservience that Alfred finds himself in is the key source of conflict in the film. Though marriage equality should really be the ultimate goal, it’s hard to feel bad for the guy considering that his main gripes seem to be that he has to wait for his wife before he’s served breakfast and has his daily schedule planned out for him (boo hoo). It’s also clear that he has it in his head that the husband should be the boss, a thought that maybe worked for 1920s society, but doesn’t play as well in 2019.
SPOILERS, but while it’s not at all surprising that by the finale the woman who started out so interesting and inspiring falls in line with her 1920s/30s gender role (aka subservient), it’s still pretty disappointing. The only ray of light in this final thunderstorm of gender inequality is the relationship between Lulu and Jacques, who seem on much more equal footing with each other and appear happy that way.
Behind the Scenes:
The Love Parade was based on the 1919 play Le Prince Consort by Jules Chancel and Leon Xanrof. It was adapted for film by Ernest Vajda and Guy Bolton. It was the first sound film directed by Ernst Lubitsch, though you wouldn’t know it, as the sound quality is excellent. Nominations for best director and sound recording came accordingly, though they would not win.
While many stars with heavy foreign accents were not long for film after talkies came about, The Love Parade found a clever way of dealing with it in Chevalier’s case. Instead of ignoring it, they worked it into the plot. While every other native of Sylvania speaks English, Count Alfred sports a heavy French accent (which Chevalier would keep throughout his career) and speaks French on occasion. He explains this difference with the anecdote that he caught a cold in Paris, went to the doctor, and had an affair with the doctor’s wife that was so hot that it cured his cold, but left him with a French accent! A bit out there, but fun and appropriate way of explaining it in the context of the character and the film’s overall sense of humor. Chevalier himself was sort of a new and interesting figure in film at the time and was touted in the newspapers as the most successful male European import since Emil Jannings (the previous year’s Best Actor Academy Award winner).
This 1929 film offers some interesting foreshadowing to the relationship of England’s own Queen Elizabeth II and her 1947 marriage to Prince Philip, who would also become prince consort instead of king upon his marriage to the queen, and thereby receive an automatic backseat to his wife. Just like the fictional Louise and Alfred would encounter difficulty navigating traditional gender roles versus royal status, so too would Elizabeth and Philip (if biographies and The Crown are to be believed).
Why was it nominated for Best Picture?
The Love Parade was a great early example of the sophisticated comedies that Paramount would be known for in the pre-code era, thanks in large part to director Ernst Lubitsch. Audiences were taken with both Lubitsch’s adept way of handling sex without actually saying the words and Chevalier’s naughty delivery of it.
Much was also made of the musical components, from the songs by musical comedy veteran Victor Schertzinger to the unique way they were delivered. Unlike the previous year’s two musical Best Picture offerings, The Broadway Melody and The Hollywood Revue of 1929, the songs in this film were not primarily sung on a stage as part of a nightclub act or by a lined up chorus singing the verse. Instead, characters sung to each other in place of speech, performed and received as naturally as if they were talking; a fairly novel technique that would become commonplace in the movie musical genre afterwards.
How does it hold up today?
While a few modern viewers will be cringing at a couple bits towards the end (mentioned in my Spoilers comment above), overall that doesn’t seem to affect the general opinion of the film. The consensus is that this is a fun, lighthearted film with a delightful amount of sexual innuendo present.
- IMDb rating = 7.1 out of 10
- Rotten Tomatoes rating = 100% out of 100% fresh by critics and 79% by viewers.
Would this be my pick for 1929/30 Best Picture?
Despite being crushed with disappointment by the character demolishing ending, I truly enjoyed this film. It is one I will definitely watch again and recommend, for many reasons, but especially for “Let’s Be Common,” which is going on my list of favorite onscreen musical numbers. So far it’s a good start to 1929/30. We’ll see if this one stays top of the heap…