Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Don't Be Silly, Husbands Are Blind!

Just to see if it would work, I tried taking music from the Viennese operetta A Waltz Dream by Oscar Straus, which Ernst Lubitsch made into the film The Smiling Lieutenant, and cutting it into an excerpt from one of Lubitsch's silent films. The Marriage Circle was his first big hit in America and the movie where he started doing the kind of upscale romantic comedies (inspired in part by Chaplin's A Woman of Paris) that he would mostly stick to for the rest of his career.

It's set in Vienna, and I think the music works OK (the recording, a Munich production from 1970 with Anneliese Rothenberger, Edda Moser and Brigitte Fassbaender, is as far as I know the only recording of A Waltz Dream available), though of course a real score for this scene would have to include "I Love You" by Grieg, since it's referred to and sung by one of the characters.

If you've seen The Smiling Lieutenant, you'll recognize some of those tunes, because they were used as background music in that film.

Lubitsch remade this film in the sound era as One Hour With You, a musical with (of course) Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, and with some of the music written by none other than Oscar Straus. It's interesting to look at the same scene in the remake and compare it to the scene from the silent version. By the sound era, Lubitsch had gotten much wackier and more whimsical, sort of like his early German silent films; he included, and encouraged writers like Samson Raphaelson to include, more bits of business like talking to the camera, and more risqué jokes. Also he was increasingly indulging his love of ellipsis, of suggesting things instead of showing them: so while The Marriage Circle gives us the scene where Mitzi ("Mizzi" in the original) takes the doctor's cab, One Hour With You shows most of the scene from a distance. Part of the reason for that, of course, is that it allows Lubitsch to do the scene very quickly and without much dialogue; in sound movies he had to resort to trickery to avoid including dialogue where he didn't want it.

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