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The Smiling Lieutenant

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Smiling Lieutenant
The Smiling Lieutenant poster.jpg
theatrical poster
Directed byErnst Lubitsch
Written byScreenplay:
Samson Raphaelson
Ernest Vajda
Ernst Lubitsch
French dialogue:
Jacques Bataille-Henri
Based onNovel: Nux der Prinzgemahl (1905)
Hans Müller-Einigen
Operetta: Ein Walzertraum (1907)
Leopold Jacobson [de]
Felix Dörmann [de]
Produced byErnst Lubitsch
StarringMaurice Chevalier
Claudette Colbert
Miriam Hopkins
CinematographyGeorge J. Folsey
Edited byMerrill G. White
Music byComposer:
Oscar Straus
Musical Director:
Adolph Deutsch (uncredited)
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • August 1, 1931 (1931-08-01)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Smiling Lieutenant is a 1931 American pre-Code musical comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch, starring Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins, and released by Paramount Pictures.

It was written by Samson Raphaelson and Ernest Vajda from the operetta Ein Walzertraum by Oscar Straus, with libretto by Leopold Jacobson [de] and Felix Dörmann [de], which in turn was based on the novel Nux, der Prinzgemahl ("Nux the Prince Consort") by Hans Müller-Einigen. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. This was the first of three films directed by Lubitsch and starring Miriam Hopkins. The other two were Trouble in Paradise and Design for Living.


In Vienna, Lieutenant Nikolaus "Niki" von Preyn (Maurice Chevalier) meets Franzi (Claudette Colbert), the leader of an all-female-orchestra. They soon fall in love with each other. While standing in formation before a parade honoring the visiting royal family of Flausenthurm, Niki takes the opportunity to wink at Franzi in the crowd. Unfortunately the gesture is intercepted by Anna, the Princess of Flausenthurm (Miriam Hopkins). The naive Princess assumes offense, leading the lieutenant to convince her that he slighted her because she is thought to be very beautiful. Besotted, the Princess demands she has to marry the lieutenant, or, she'll marry an American instead. The international incident is narrowly averted by having them get married.

The Lieutenant sneaks away from his bride to wander the streets of Flausenthurm to find his girlfriend. The princess learns of this and decides to confront Franzi. After the initial confrontation, Franzi sees that the princess is in fact deeply in love with the lieutenant, and decides to save the marriage by giving the princess a makeover, singing "Jazz up your lingerie!"

The results are a complete success as the Lieutenant follows his satin-clad, cigarette-puffing bride into the bedroom and closes the door – only to open it and give the audience a last song and a suggestive wink.[1]



The film was not made under pleasant circumstances: the shift to the Astoria, New York, studios accounts for the sense of confinement on set.[2] Chevalier described performing – "smiles and cute winks of the eye" – a "mechanical display of technique" due to grief over his mother's death. Lubitsch also played referee between Colbert and Hopkins, who were determined to be shot from the same angle. Lubitsch encouraged their dispute that suited their characters on screen.[3]

Scenes from the film were included in the 1931 promotional film by Paramount, The House That Shadows Built.


The Smiling Lieutenant was Paramount's biggest grosser of 1931. Barrios claims that "Lubitsch and Chevalier were invincible".[2] It was also named the year's "Best Ten" by The New York Times, along with Charlie Chaplin's City Lights and F. W. Murnau's Tabu.[4]

Lubitsch was still in the stages of mastering sound-on-film technology and combining it with narrative: James Harvey acclaims that "technically The Smiling Lieutenant is the most accomplished of Lubitsch's early sound films. In sets, camerawork, background music, alternations of sound and silence, thus the film reaches a certain level that makes The Love Parade and Monte Carlo look comparatively stilted".[5] For Andrew Sarris, The Smiling Lieutenant stands between the "lilting lyricism" of Love Parade and the "tempered ironies"[6] in Trouble in Paradise.

Due to an ongoing copyright dispute with the silent-film version, The Smiling Lieutenant remained out of circulation for years and was considered as a lost film until a print was discovered in Denmark in the 1990s.[7] When the film resurfaced, the "general elation" was followed by "an inevitable let down" due to technical problems.[2]

"The Lubitsch Touch"

The notion of "The Lubitsch Touch" is used to describe the visual comment or joke that becomes a trademark or signature of Lubitsch's films.[8] Billy Wilder defines the touch in relation to The Smiling Lieutenant: "It was the elegant use of the Superjoke. You had a joke, and you felt satisfied, and then there was one more big joke on top of it. The joke you didn't expect. That was the Lubitsch touch." The ultimate Superjoke is that at the end of the film, "the wrong girl gets the man".[3]


  1. ^ Green, Stanley (1999) Hollywood Musicals Year by Year (2nd ed.), pub. Hal Leonard Corporation ISBN 0-634-00765-3 page 15
  2. ^ a b c Barrios, Richard (1995). A Song In The Dark: The Birth of Musical Film, p. 344. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195088115.
  3. ^ a b Eyman, Scott (2000) "Ernst Lubitsch: Laughter in Paradise. London", p. 169. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. ISBN 0801865581.
  4. ^ Hall, Mordaunt. "Blue-Ribbon Pictures of 1931: The Guardsman Heads List of Best Ten" The New York Times, New York, January 3, 1932.
  5. ^ Harvey, James (1998) "Romantic Comedy in Hollywood: From Lubitsch to Sturges", p. 22. Da Capo Press, New York. ISBN 0306808323.
  6. ^ Sarris, Andrew (1972). "Lubitsch in the Thirties: All Talking! All Singing! All Lubitsch!", Film Comment 8, p. 21.
  7. ^ The New York Times (February 12, 2008)
  8. ^ Thompson, Kristin (2005) "Herr Lubitsch Goes To Hollywood: German and American Film After World War I", p. 126. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam. ISBN 9053567089.

External links

This page was last edited on 23 June 2022, at 17:50
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