Style-wise, this is basically a cookie cutter copy of One Hour with You and it doesn’t help that it also stars Maurice Chevalier. That would be alright, but The Smiling Lieutenant doesn’t have the same silly, toe tapping feel that made me fall in love with One Hour with You.
When Austrian Lieutenant Niki (Maurice Chevalier) and Franzi (Claudette Colbert) become lovers everything is perfect and he can’t help but smile and be happy. But he smiles and winks to Franzi as the king and princess of Flausenshaum ride by, and the princess believes that the Lieutenant was laughing at her. The nerve! Especially when they have felt less than welcome in their travel to Austria. When the king asks Niki to explain himself, Niki charmingly wins them over, but perhaps too much. Suddenly, the naive Princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins) wants to marry Niki, and he is in no position to say no. What will happen to Franzi and Niki’s happiness?
What makes this film feel so different to a film so similar is how the main conflict is treated. Here, when Niki does not want to marry Anna, he’s helpless and forced to. What’s worse, is we see him broken down and sad about it. That doesn’t make for an easy-going, fun film. Yet, in the end, the whole conflict becomes so trivial when ***SPOILER ALERT*** we realize that Anna just needs to look the part for Niki to warm up to her. Typical guy.
The songs aren’t so great either. This goes back to abruptly breaking into song again. Franzi plays the violin and Niki the piano at times, and I guess that’s a way to justify their need for musical boisterousness. I’d happily take a duet with no vocals.
There are also two bits where Maurice Chevalier sings directly to the audience again, just like in One Hour with You. Problem is, he does it at the beginning and the end, like tidy bookends. But with so much space in the middle without our eyes meeting it makes it feel more awkward, forced and less personal. With less 4th wall breaking, I also got the feeling that Niki was not as warm and friendly a person as Andre.
There’s little need to see two film that are so similar. Unless you really love Claudette Colbert or Miriam Hopkins you’re better off with One Hour with You.
“I don’t know very much about life. I got all my knowledge out of the Royal Encyclopedia. A special edition arranged for Flausenthurm, with all the interesting things left out.”