This collection of pre-code Ernst Lubitsch comedy/musicals is a welcome addition to the gems which continue to appear on DVD. Ernst Lubitsch was the master of the bedroom comedy, with a famous and recognisable touch towards matters sexual which became the benchmark for many famous directors, notably Billy Wilder.
"The Love Parade", released in 1929, became the prototype of the Lubitsch musical which culminated with "The Merry Widow" in 1934, to which it has many similarities. The film stars the debonair Maurice Chevalier as an ambassador who marries luminous Jeanette Macdonald, queen of Sylvania, in her film debut. Macdonald became for a brief time the queen of the bedroom farce, long before MGM paired her with Nelson Eddy and systematically removed her sense of fun. In this film, her makeup obscures her lush beauty but no one could match her balance of sexinesss and insouciance. The film broke away from the backstage conventions of the early talkie musicals and contributed significantly to the liberation of the camera from the inertia which talkies initially brought. The print is very good.
As a follow up, Macdonald was starred in 1930 in "Monte Carlo" with the British Jack Buchanan who is no Chevalier. Buchanan has an effeminate quality which detracts from the romance. The plot is a take off of Monsieur Beaucaire, a countess falling in love with a count impersonating her hairdresser. The best moment is the staging of MacDonald in a train singing "Beyond the Blue Horizon", a song she kept in her repertoire for the rest of her life. The film is a showcase for her and she is animated and funny. The print is generally excellent but the soundtrack comes and goes at times as the actors move away from the microphone.
In 1931, "The Smiling Lieutenant" brings back Chevalier in another marital musical farce whereby he is mistaken for flirting with dowdy princess Miriam Hopkins and ordered to marry her to avoid an international scandal. Claudette Colbert plays his saucy girlfriend, a violinist with an all girl band. Colbert eventually meets the princess, takes pity on her and teaches her to "jazz up her lingerie" to attract Chevalier. The film is filled with visual tricks, smutty innuendo, particularly around Colbert's ability with her hands, and some lively songs. Colbert reveals an adequate singing voice. All the leads are terrific and the print is really excellent.
"One Hour with You" for 1932 is a remake of an earlier Lubitsch Silent and is another bedroom farce with Chevalier caught between wife Jeanette MacDonald and her girlfriend Genevieve Tobin, in rhyming couplets. The film in fact was originally directed by George Cukor but Lubitsch was not satisfied with the results and apparantly reshot much of the footage. There are some charming songs and, once again, lots of sexy innuendo. MacDonald is radiant here and her scenes with the superb Tobin are hilarious. Charles Ruggles and Roland Young are on hand too in support of the leads and are perfect as always. The print is OK.
All of these films contributed to Paramount Studios reputation as the most sophisticated of the studios. While they were critical successes, only "The Love Parade" really was an all out smash hit. The set is expensive but has no extras except some good notes on the inside sleeve of each DVD. This is disappointing given they are more worthy of preservation than many more famous box office hits.