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: One Hour with You (1932)
- Standing: Nominated for Best Picture of 1931/1932
- Type: Musical, Comedy, Pre-code
- Other AA Nominations: 0
- Other AA Wins: 0
- Director: Ernst Lubitsch and George Cukor (assistant director)
- Studio/Producer: Paramount Pictures / Ernst Lubitsch
- Cast: Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Genevieve Tobin, Charles Ruggles, Roland Young
- Production Notes: Gowns by Travis Banton, Music by Oscar Straus with lyrics by Leo Robin, based on Lothar Schmidt’s play Only a Dream, adapted for the screen by Samuel Raphaelson, Cinematography by Victor Milner, Art direction by Hans Dreier
- Viewing Order: 20 / 270
Summary & Viewing Experience:
Doctor Andre Bertier (Maurice Chevalier) and his wife Colette (Jeanette MacDonald) are still mad about each other after 3 years of marriage. They have a healthy (and heavily implied) sex life and neither feels the need to stray, but Andre’s fidelity is put to the test when he happens to share a taxi with a minx on the make. She is Mitzi Olivier (Genevieve Tobin), a hopeless flirt whose antics no longer amuse her humorless husband (Roland Young). He is actively trying to divorce her and hires a private detective to follow her around gathering evidence of her indiscretions.
Mitzi wastes no time and puts the moves on Andre so lustily that he has to eject himself from the cab for fear of giving in. Unfortunately, this will not be the last time he runs into her because she just so happens to be his wife’s childhood best friend who has arrived at the house for a visit that very day!
The fact that Andre is her best friend’s husband doesn’t bother Mitzi one bit and she immediately devotes all of her energy into vamping him. Andre, however, is torn because he (says he) loves his wife, but he’s also very attracted to Mitzi and can feel himself slipping…
At a party thrown by the Bertiers, the sexual tension has reached its peak and Andre finds himself in a very awkward position. Colette suspects he’s being unfaithful, but doesn’t suspect her best friend. Instead she assumes it’s another hot blonde and Mitzi uses this assumption to spend more time with Andre by convincing Colette that whenever Mitzi diverts his attention from the blonde, dances with him, and takes solo walks on the veranda with him, it’s doing Colette a favor. Masterful, but it’s also sort of hard to believe that Colette would fall for this.
For a man who says he’s never been unfaithful, it really doesn’t take much to get Andre from devoted husband to making out with Mitzi in the bushes during the party while his wife searches for him. Assuming he’s with the blonde and hurt by his perceived infidelity, she gives in to the advances of their amorous friend Adolph (Charles Ruggles) and enjoys an extremely halfhearted makeout session of her own. Though they have both cheated, you feel distinctly that the scales are not balanced. After all, Andre didn’t sob mightily through his affair.
With Mitzi’s husband wielding the evidence gathered by the private detective, the heat is on Andre. Will his marriage be over when Colette finds out the truth?
The film’s intention was a lighthearted romp through a few high society bedrooms, with a halfhearted musical aspect thrown in, but it was hard to get past the actual ickiness of most of the main characters. Mitzi is perhaps the worst friend in the history of film. Not even for a second does she seem to consider her best friend’s feelings, made even more gross by Colette’s trust in her, and even uses Colette’s suspicions of Andre’s infidelity with the blonde as a tool to woo Andre behind her back. Chevalier is also a pretty terrible husband, when it comes down to it. He asks the male audience, “what would you do?” when confronted with a choice between a sexy wife who you love and her sexy friend who you desire. Though he assumes that this is a choice actually worth mulling over, the choice to me seems pretty simple: DON’T HAVE AN AFFAIR WITH YOUR WIFE’S BEST FRIEND, YOU COLOSSAL CREEP!
The film did have some interesting quirks, such as Chevalier and MacDonald’s characters breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience on occasion. They also broke into rhyme every so often, not quite singing and not quite speaking their lines, only to resume normal speech a moment later. The songs were forgettable, if not downright nauseating.
It was also somewhat of a shock to see both Roland Young and Charles Ruggles as young men. I know that Chevalier was supposed to be the babe in this film, but I wouldn’t have turned up my nose at either Roland or Charlie.
Behind the Scenes:
This was the second musical Chevalier and MacDonald would make together. It would not deviate too much from the style of the first, The Love Parade, though that film was saved by the appearance of Lillian Roth and Lupino Lane, while this one had no such endearing characters or musical numbers.
Ernst Lubitsch and George Cukor were both given credit as directing the film (though with Cukor listed as assistant director). One Hour with You was a musical remake of Lubitsch’s film The Marriage Circle (both based on Lothar Schmidt’s play Only a Dream) and he was originally slated to direct, but then was replaced by Cukor with Lubitsch on as supervisor. However, Lubitsch was brought back when Cukor and Chevalier couldn’t see eye to eye on set and both directors ended up staying, with both insisting on directing credit. The matter was taken to court, but settled outside it with Lubitsch receiving directing credit and Cukor assistant director .
Why was it nominated for Best Picture?
To be honest, I’m not sure. Though it was given rave reviews at the time as “bright” and “sophisticated” (the “Lubitsch touch” in full effect) with an excellent cast, nothing about it seemed to stand out as better than any other picture coming out at the time.
How does it hold up today?
Apparently, much better than I gave it credit for. Though a vastly smaller amount of people have seen this compared to 1931/1932’s winner Grand Hotel, they seemed to enjoy it. Perhaps it’s the slinky gowns by Travis Banton or the chemistry of Chevalier and MacDonald, but the film holds up for modern critics and viewers alike.
- IMDb rating = 7.2 out of 10 (with 1,968 ratings)
- Rotten Tomatoes rating = 100% fresh by critics (5 fresh votes) and 78% fresh user ratings (out of 650 ratings)
Would this be my pick for 1931/1932’s Best Picture?
One Hour With You made me want to ask for the hour back. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if I like Chevalier at all and I still have The Smiling Lieutenant, another Chevalier vehicle that was nominated for 1931/1932, to look forward to…
*UPDATE: See my full 1931/1932 ranking here