The Smiling Lieutenant


I only knew Maurice Chevalier from “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” from Gigi. However, I discovered his much earlier film The Smiling Lieutenant, 1931 a grand farce. If you like silly old time films with romance, you’ll like this. Chevalier plays a young lieutenant who’s quite a flirt. At the start of the film, his superior comes to him bemoaning how he loves a sweet young thing in spite of loving his wife. Chevalier’s Niki advises him to stick with his wife, and shortly thereafter Niki is wooing the sweet young Franzi, played by Claudette Colbert. Franzi is a modern woman who’s fine with “free love.” I hadn’t seen a 1930s woman with such a character.

Niki and Franzi fall madly in love, but trouble ensues when Niki accidentally waves at a sheltered princess from a small province. Her father a prince feels disrespected and immediately interrogates Niki. Before you know it, Niki saves his skin by talking his way into a shotgun wedding to the princess. What to do?

On the wedding night and during the honeymoon phase, Niki breaks the princess’ heart by keeping his distance from her and slipping off for rendezvous with Franzi.

It’s not the usual romance. I kept wondering how the story would end happily. While the film was a little sillier than I like, it was fun and different. There are several light-hearted songs which enhanced the film. I did think it was odd that Chevalier is supposed to be a native of Vienna though he speaks with his usual distinct French accent.

All in all, it was a fun film, though not a masterpiece.

Imitation of Life


Lana Turner, whose name I knew, though I’ve never seen her films, stars in Imitation of Life (1959), which shows the life of Lara Meredith a widow with a young daughter who aspires to become an actress. One day while at the beach, Lara loses Susie, her daughter. Frantic, she meets Steve, a photographer who helps her find Susie. I turns out Susie’s been with Annie, an African American woman with a fair skinned daughter, Sarah Jane, who befriends Susie.

Since Annie and Sarah Jane are homeless, Lara takes them in. Although Lara’s struggling too, she shares her home with Annie, though not exactly equally. Annie becomes Lara’s nanny/housekeeper, which made sense in the era. One storyline is Lara’s career success. She (almost unbelievably) rises to the highest level of the film world. Because she is so busy with her career, she has no time for Steve, the handsome photographer who’s so good with Susie, Annie and Sarah Jane.

Sarah Jane and Annie

Sarah Jane and Annie

Another, more compelling storyline is Sarah Jane’s life. She distances herself from her mother from her youth. She refuses to go to school when her peers learn her mother’s Black. As a teen, she secretly dates a boy and hides her mother’s race from him. Sarah eventually runs away telling her mother not to look for her because she wants to live as a white person, which breaks her mother’s heart.

The film’s pretty good, but dated. I found the acting rather stilted, but certain directors have their actors speak in a very stately, stagey way, which we don’t see in contemporary films. For some reason in Imitation of Life I noticed this more.

N.B. This film was a remake of a 1934 film with Claudette Colbert.