The Smiling Lieutenant ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Monumentally funny, delightfully risque pre-code musical about a promiscuous French army man finding love after breakfast then getting caught up in a royal scandal. Lubitsch's musical numbers are a bit static at times, and many modern audiences will find themselves immune to the charms of Maurice Chevalier (at least until they get conditioned to his broad but genuinely engaging performance style) but there's no escaping the pull of the adorable Claudette Colbert as a liberated violinist -- whose off-key singing does nothing to dissipate our immediate attachment to her -- and the alluring Miriam Hopkins, whose performance is breathtaking as a feat of comic precision and timing, to say nothing of an airtight script full of huge, ecstatic laughs, harnessed to complete potential by this stellar cast -- don't forget George Barbier's King Adolf, with his infectiously phony nervous chuckle. Not only does Lubitsch have a blast firing shots at sexual repression, telling another story so buoyant we scarcely notice how claustrophobic all this is, he then allows even Colbert and Hopkins to seemingly fall in love. After a hilarious meltdown, they sing a song about lingerie together that ends in a goodbye that I swear has some of the most palpable sexual tension in a Hollywood film. (Apparently they didn't like each other much, but my god, look at those looks and touches in that scene.) If ever a film cried out for an over-the-top ribald group sex ending, a la the same director's Design for Living, it's this one! And it's a little disappointing that it slides back toward mild conservatism... but only a little. This is an infallible joy -- and ridiculously sexy in body and wit -- regardless.

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