Film review: 'Monte Carlo' by Ernst Lubitsch

Film review: 'Monte Carlo' by Ernst Lubitsch

Hoping to relive their hit from the year before with ‘The Love Parade,’ lead Jeanette MacDonald reunited with director Ernst Lubitsch for another big screen collaboration titled ‘Monte Carlo.’ In ‘Monte Carlo,’ Countess Vera Von Conti (MacDonald) is betrothed to Prince Otto Von Siebenheim (Claud Allister), but as to be expected from the genre, she holds no love nor affection for the stuffy, boring member of the royal family. Also, predictable, she decides to skip the wedding and hop on a train to anywhere as long as it is not her wedding. Abandoned, poor Otto is forced to come to terms with the fact that his bride fled, again (this is now the third time), and his song ‘She’ll Love Me and Like It!’ gives us clues about how it’s even remotely possible for the Countess to not want to marry the Prince. Personality flaws aside, the sequence will have you laughing out loud and whet your appetite for more.

And more we get. At some point during her light-hearted conversation with the train conductor, played by Bill Bevan, the Countess feels the pull of the exclusive Monte Carlo and decides to go there to find fortune. The sequence where she sings the film’s most famous song ‘Beyond the Blue Horizon’ is simply beautiful and is guaranteed to give you goosebumps. The song, with its simple form and lyrics, is renowned among film historians who consider it one of the best numbers of the early talkies. The combination of travelling shots, train sounds, and the wonderful crescendos of the overlaying orchestra really create the sense of excitement that the escapee must have been experiencing.

Once in Monte Carlo, the film sadly loses some momentum. Predictably, poor Vera loses quite a large chunk of change in the casino and is about to end up in ruins when a dashing stranger decides to use the stunning Vera as his charm. Then, there’s a small twist when Vera’s night takes a turn for the better and she wins back her own fortune. Cue Mr. Double Identity, Count Rudolph Falliere (Jack Buchanan), who poses as a hairdresser to get closer to the Countess, and ends up being hired to be her combination valet and charm. He does a fine job in the role but fans of ‘The Love Parade’ should be prepared to be a bit disappointed: he’s definitely no Maurice Chevalier. But then again, even Chevalier wouldn’t have been able to pull off ‘Trimmin the Women.’ Though it is a great song, it just doesn’t fit the character.

I doubt I’d ruin the rather predictable ending by telling you that they end up together when she discovers (at the opera, obviously!) that he’s a Count and therefore perfectly suitable for her to marry (who doesn’t love the hierarchy of the aristocracy in the 1930s?).

What the story is lacking, the music makes up for. Whiting and Harling’s score overall is quite good with some pieces really standing out, such as ‘Whatever It Is, It’s Grand.’ Then, too, you do have to appreciate the decade that this movie was made in. It’s a brilliant example of an emerging genre with advanced camera techniques for the era, and the sound quality is fantastic for being such an early talkie.

Fans of musicals won’t be disappointed, but it’s best that they focus on the musical numbers. Although Lubitsch manages to keep the film interspersed with many subtle and sly remarks, the story itself gives the feeling of killing time before they can include the next musical sequence. I recommend watching on a rainy Saturday afternoon.