Tony (tectactoe)’s review published on Letterboxd:
I was anticipating a nightmare after the hodge-podge opening sequence: a merry butler singing choppy showtunes while prepping meals, lovers who can’t decide whether to speak in French or English, and, capping it all off, a sudden overdose of needless shock-drama followed by what’s maybe the most unconvincing reaction to a gunshot I’ve witnessed. Should’ve had more faith in old Ernst, though; the attempted suicide is nothing but a façade, and what began as a digression too ghastly (not to mention wooden) for a Lubitsch picture turned into a joke both hilariously cunning (to us) and callously cruel (to the lady’s poor husband). Further yet, that introductory parlay serves no real purpose other than to underwrite the Count’s libidinous and domineering behavior - after which said lady and said husband are never heard from again - to create an encroachment of massive discomfiture when he somewhat unwittingly assumes the role of a subservient consort, his lewd hypermasculinity hushed to barely a whisper. Claims of blatant sexism aren’t without merit, esp. regarding the operatic conclusion which finds Alfred reasserting supremacy over the Queen of a damn nation, reducing her to yet another stereotypical “woman who needs the comfort and security a man,”etc. It’s an ungainly sentiment, relativism aside, but Lubitsch’s supple touch makes it feel less chauvinistic than it might at the hands of, say, Howard Hawks or John Ford; he still very much treats Louise as her own person with her own identity, not merely an accoutrement to the men around her. (Not to mention, she has the film’s single best line: [holds out left leg] ”There’s only one other leg like this in Sylvania…” [beat] [holds out right leg] ”…and it’s this one!” - It’s the type of joke you can see coming from a mile away, but is exquisite regardless.) I just wish her one crutch didn’t, you know, reinforce that stigmatic dependency (which the narrative itself had been marvelously reversing up til that night at the opera); even so, it’s made clear that the Count is a certified sleazeball and his gender-coded actions are devious at worse and abhorrent at best, not commendable in any form (and his “victory” of getting the Queen to fall for him the same way she previously did him seems more caustic than truly blissful).
Rarely do things like that distract me from lighthearted tomfoolery, anyway, of which there’s plenty (favorite gambit: the way Alfred and Louise’s first date is commented entirely by spectators), along with enough emphatically wry wit to help reconcile the questionable politics. Suffers from an over-emphasis on talking when it needn’t, as many films on the forefront of the Talkie Era do e.g. after the Count’s close friend exclaims, ”I am so happy!” aloud, there’s a close-up on the Count’s face, crestfallen and forlorn, which says more than enough about his comparatively melancholic mood, but then he mutters out, “I am not,” as though Lubitsch were under some external pressure to include as much dialogue as possible, necessary or not, simply because he was now capable of it. I also could’ve done without every one of the mini-musical numbers, which impose a similarly gangly sense of obligation to the medium. (I wonder, if this were made ten or fifteen years later, would Lubitsch have opted for the musical interludes?) These transitional-period films are always a bit awkward, though; all things considered, this one’s relatively graceful.