[b]The Love Parade (1929) - Ernst Lubitsch[/b]
The Love Parade was Ernst Lubitsch's first foray into sound, and few directors made the leap with more confidence and technical skill. Part of the reason was that Lubitsch was already filming operettas in the silent era, and the addition of sound merely completed the formula he was already working with. Not much has changed, there is still luxury, philandering, European charm, and frivolous morals. Perhaps none of this is better expressed than in the screen persona of Maurice Chevalier, who is given full upper class privileges first as a Count, and later as the Crown Prince of Sylvania. However in terms of class he is still considered the common man, and thus insubordinate to MacDonald's Queen. This sets up the formula that would be in place throughout Chevalier and MacDonald's musicals. This dualism has been set up from the beginning, and everything comes in twos throughout the film. Essentially this dualism is that Chevalier is our link, and MacDonald is the fairy tale. The common man vs. the royal aristocracy.
In the very beginning of the film several dualities are established. First off there are two people being sent back to Sylvania. One is Chevalier, but begging to go with is his servant Jacques (Lupino Lane), who can't wait to tell the "One about the Frenchmen and the farmer's daughter". Next comes the very context of settings. It begins in Paris, and he is being sent to the mystical land of Sylvania (called Transylvania by his servant). This dualism equates the hierarchy of the fairy tale musical travelogue. The country is to New York, what New York is to Paris, and what Paris is to a fairy tale kingdom, in this case Sylvania. This juxtaposition was perhaps first established here in film, and continues all the way through Kenneth Branagh's Love's Labours Lost (2000). Chevalier also has two asides to the camera, breaking the fourth wall, once at the beginning and again near the very end of the film. "The Wedding March" is played twice, once when it angers the Queen, and shortly thereafter at her own wedding.
What is ironic here is the seduction. Who exactly in this film is seducing who? MacDonald has no shortage of self confidence, telling her cabinet "My legs are perfect". Part of this is how she's presented to us. Chevalier has common Parisians and even a dog singing along with him. MacDonald has her royal maids, singing not in the common voice of Chevalier, but in the operatic one of MacDonald. This singing lends a style of civility and sophistication to MacDonald's royal elegance lacking in Chevalier's Parisian charm. She is first seen in the morning, whereas Chevalier is introduced to us at night. Within a minute of her being woken up, we see her undressed by her maids, and we get the first look at those "perfect" legs. She is being set up, not only as a royal figure, a civilized figure, but a sexual figure. We hear about Chevalier's exploits, but we see MacDonald exploited visually for us.
So when it comes to the two meeting MacDonald changes her approach. She is attracted to his very immoral nature. His exploits (which she reads, but we don't) give her privilege to information that we don't get. It is this material too shocking for the screen that wins her over. As a Queen, who doesnt find the idea of marriage tantalizing, she is interested in sex without love. Or in this case, sex now, love later. Chevaliers promiscuity ensures her that he can handle himself in the bedroom, and this is exactly what she is looking for. Now how about Chevalier? He is taken in by her beauty, and we know he is easy, but is that enough, certainly not for marriage. What she uses is her power. The idea is given to her by Chevalier, as he suggests his punishment be to never leave her side, again one of the mirrors repeated later. What she uses is power, a decidedly masculine quality. What's interesting is that in this first meeting, MacDonald is wearing a ring on her left hand ring finger. Definite foreshadowing for a single woman. What she does is effectively to assume his role to win him over. Not only does she wear a military uniform (much like his), but when they have their first duet, she sings in the talking manner that Chevalier uses, rather than singing in her own style. Moreover, when they start singing, she is the first to sing in essence making the first move. She is reducing herself to his level to win him over, but this sets up a later conflict. It is only when she completely caves into Chevalier that she presumably wins his eternal love.
Throughout the film characters in the film see more than us, as if Lubitsch is inviting us to a voyeuristic party, and closing the door in our face when we get there. The first thing we dont see is Chevaliers exploits in Paris. He is being kicked out, and we only catch the tail end of one of his affairs. We arent shown what he did there, and arent really even told. Next comes MacDonalds bathing sequence, where the characters in the scene see her completely naked, but we are only given teasing glimpses, denying us the same perspective of the characters. Lubitsch carefully frames her servants to cover everything we want to see. So now we are denied two things that establish our characters, Chevaliers immoral behavior and MacDonalds body, the two things that are most attractive to the opposite partner. So it makes sense that the third time we are denied seeing what characters see, it involves both characters now. Their courtship dinner, the one date between the two that leads directly to their marriage, we dont see. Instead we are told through three different camps, what is happening while they eat, and they are even speculating on the exact conversation. Lubitsch does throw us a bone immediately after. We dont see their dinner, or even hear their conversation, but Lubitsch delights us by letting us into the bedroom.
This bedroom scene sets up a few distinctions. For one, MacDonald is pressuring Chevalier. They ditch formalities. She demands that he court her as if she were another girl, presumably one of the Parisian women, that she has up to now envied for their carnal knowledge of Chevalier. He stops calling her Your majesty and she stops referring to him by title. Instead they assume the common role by being on a first name basis. Instead of Count and Queen, it is Alfred and Louise. In one of the sequences more comical bits, MacDonald asks Alfred What would you do?, and before acting a stunned Chevalier takes a drink. Even a man of such reputation and charm, needs a little liquid confidence, because we are led to believe that he truly has met his match in MacDonald. Even though she requests to be treated as another girl, he finds himself unable to perform on command. In this case, a swig of alcohol takes on the old metaphor of being medicine, or more specifically an aphrodisiac. Yet the break down of her to his level changes here. She has proven to be an adequate match, something special and not just another conquest for this rogue. He has also won her over, broken her long standing aversion to love. She was interested in sex before, but now she has warmed up to the idea of marriage, because she has fallen in love with him, as symbolized by the dinner we didnt see, and abandoning formality and calling him Alfred. So both partners are effectively hooked. They moved beyond attraction and are in love, and therefore in their second duet MacDonald no longer sings in Chevaliers style but her own, and the two use their contradictory singing styles to surprising harmonic effect.
Their wedding follows immediately after, and it seems virtually overnight that the unity and harmony of the previous scene has vanished. The two lovers are shown in opposition. They are naturally kept separate. Chevalier is in his ceremonial uniform, but MacDonald is once again undressed. We see her long veil, but before getting into it, she is stripped by her maids, paralleling the earlier bathing scene. She is radiant and thrilled about the days festivities. Chevalier waking up hung over from his alcoholic aphrodisiac the night before is not exactly comfortable. He is again associated with the common country man by brining folkish superstitions to the palace. He is confronted by a cross eyed man, which he believes is always bad luck. Also hard to explain is his superstition about whistling. More common in terms of superstition is the broken mirror that an unwitting Count Alfred picks up. During their respective entrances to the wedding the two are framed differently. Chevalier enters in a medium long shot, scene roughly from the knees up. MacDonald on the other hand enters from a very long shot, encompassing not only her entire body, but that of most of the people around her. She appears through this framing device as different removed from Chevalier and through him (being our common man link) shes removed from us. With a somewhat clumsy Arabian leader talking about the dangers of men and women switching roles, we are sided with Chevalier.
Our enticing MacDonald is now a remote Queen. She got her man, and now that she got him, she appears to resort back to her old way. Through marriage Count Alfred will become a Crown Prince, rather than King. She is not a lady shes a Queen. Our last chance to feel for MacDonald is during Chevaliers reluctance to accept the marriage vows. However his premonition is not without reason, and at first it seems to be a slightly comic delay, but theres something larger here that Lubitsch is telling us. Lubitsch is asking us, because we are now linked wholly to Chevalier by this point, whether we want to go through with this. This is not a fairy tale musical where the film ends with a marriage and everyone lives happily ever after. In MacDonald and Chevaliers later musical Love Me Tonight (1932), directed by Rouben Mamoulian, the films ends with three ladies saying There once was a Princess and Prince Charming. Who was not a Prince, but he was charming, and they lived happily ever after. This ending might have applied here, but Lubitsch is temporarily denying the fairy tale ending. This isnt a marriage solves everything, and it wont end the picture. Paying attention to the running time, the marriage effectively happens halfway through the film, thus breaking what we have come to assume as the typical ending. Its as if with Alfreds reluctance we are asked if we really want to see a fairy tale here. Knowing what we know about Lubitsch, both before and after this film, marriage is hardly a solution, but more a way to ask for more problems. In The Marriage Circle (1924), Lady Windermeres Fan (1925), and So This is Paris? (1926) Lubitsch made a reputation for himself by showing marital infidelity and domestic disputes as comical and very common. So therefore we cant assume that even in this clear fairy tale setting that happily ever after will apply following marriage, because as we learned marriage and love arent always synonyms.
So with Chevalier leaving our world and entering MacDonalds we are temporarily left without a leader. So we are given the one full number sung by neither MacDonald or Chevalier. Jacques sings to MacDonalds maid since they are the lower class here, and more specifically the common people. Their seduction recalls the earlier joke that once again we never get to hear, about the Frenchmen and the farmers daughter. These two win each other over by him admitting to being the Frenchmen, and she is the farmers daughter. They both are privileged to information that we dont have, just as they know and see more of MacDonald and Chevalier than we do. He is privilege to Chevaliers exploits, and she has seen MacDonalds naked body, thus knowing and seeing more than either of us. Their motto is Lets be common. During the number, the surprisingly limber Lane parallels Donald OConnors Make em Laugh number in Singin in the Rain (1952). The assumption is that being common is not only wonderful, but also violent. They hit each other, and seem to love it. Their seduction is accomplished through dance, not necessarily singing. So are we to assume that in this world singing is the mating game of the upper class, and dancing of the lower class? Dancing is much more physical, and thats what these common people use, and their happiness is volatile and real. Theyre happy living with these flaws, and we should be to. They break from the fairy tale mold, by being real. It is precisely the denial of the real and common that cause MacDonald and Chevalier marital strife.
MacDonald might know how to seduce him, but not to keep him. She assumes a mother role, and this is evident even in their titles. She is the Queen and he is the Crown Prince, titles usually reserved for a mother and her first born son. MacDonald goes further in her mother role. Once again she is Yes your majesty, and she goes so far as to plan his day for him. She even reminds him to take a nap, a clear sign of a mothering move. During this interaction, she is wearing his military uniform, and he is in pajamas and he is sleeping in her bed. The defeated and distant mother of privilege has one solution to nearly every disgruntled child. She assumes on a trip shell buy him some new uniforms and that will make him happy. Parenting 101, if your child is unhappy, buy them toys or in this case uniforms. Chevalier is far from accepting her motherly role. He is an independent man, and it is his being himself that won her over, now she has assumed his role. She has conquered her subject, and after getting the sexual fulfillment she wanted, she can now go back to being Queen, and keeps Chevalier as something of an over priced sex doll. She spends her days running affairs of state, to spend her nights with him. She doesnt love him as she says, she simply wants him physically. He is a rarity, hes the Queens mistress yet carries the title of being also her husband. MacDonald has confused sex with love, and is taking something of a masculine idea that she simply wants this man hanging around to sleep with whenever shes good and ready.
A significant gender reversal comes out here just as the Sultan had warned about earlier. Chevalier is a stay at home mom without any children to look after. He cant even have breakfast without the presence of the Queen. His budget, which would solve Sylvanias financial woes presumably is dismissed. Not only is the proposal rejected, but it isnt even read. The bureaucracy of this kingdom is keeping him from even being heard. It is after this rejection that the Crown Prince uses the one card he has left, he leaves her. Hes going back to Paris. Now this seems odd right here. The budget is the first time that real world concerns creep into this fairy tale, yet when Chevalier is planning on returning to Paris, not a single mention is made of what hes going to do there and what hell use for money. He isnt shown to have a legitimate job during the film, so what would he do? In this case we are wondering, but knowing something of the genres foundation, surely he cant really leave. So this mention of leaving allows Chevalier to use his strength. MacDonald used her looks and power to seduce him, in the process falling in love, or at least deep lust. He cuts her off, denies her the sex she has found so essential, and MacDonald begins to realize that she might actually love the man. He now has her emotions to manipulate. He proves hes still volatile and popular with the ladies, as evident when he shows up at the Opera, and the crowd starts cheering. The first people to clap are very deliberately women. So not only is he denying sex, but also demonstrating that other women are still interested in him in terms making her jealous. She tries a similar ploy on him. Using her emotions to get him to stay. Her loud and deliberate weeping goes unnoticed if not unheard by Chevalier. She is miscalculating here. If their mutual attraction worked in the beginning, it fails here. She is affected emotionally by him, so she thinks that by displaying over the top emotions hell feel for her. Luckily for us she thinks on her feet. She realizes that pleading for his heart wont work, she needs to submit. Like Ruth Chatterton in Female (1933), the powerful female can only find love by submitting to a dominant male and relinquishing her control. It is a sexist view, but it is at the end that equality is re-established. He is allowed diplomatic privilege and she demands he punish her, mirroring her initial punishment of him. She therefore sums it all up, when the two embrace she says My King, he has officially been raised to her level, the gender roles are back to normal, and only now can we justifiably believe that they live happily ever after.