The playboy/thief Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall) meets the expert pickpocket Lily (Miriam Hopkins) on the Riviera, and they, of course, fall in love. Initially, they try to steal from each other—a kind of foreplay among secretary to the wealthy heiress to a perfume company, Madame Mariette Colet (Kay Francis), hiring Lily as maid, so they can rob her blind. Unfortunately, while cleaning up the corruption on her company’s board, and settling into a comfortable lifestyle, he also falls in love with her, and must decide between two women, one who offers excitement, the other, stability.
Ernst Lubitsch had become a master of the marital comedy in the silent era with films like Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925) and So This is Paris (1926), and no director was better at exposing the false morality of the bourgeoisie when pursuing sexual desire. Here, Lubitsch sets up a faux marriage, then turns the relationship into a ménage à trois, which he provocatively suggests may be the best way to keep a sexual relationship interesting and stable, because it has been liberated from the strictures of middle class morality. Lubitsch’s direction of actors is almost Pirandellian, with the actors speaking their emotional lines in a virtual monotone, thus creating parodies of romantic love, demonstrated by actors who play themselves, playing a character in a film. The film’s inherent naturalism is thus continually called into question by artifice, as in the opening scene when a Venetian gondolier is heard singing a romantic song in the moonlight, while the ensuing image reveals that he is a garbage collector loading refuse into his gondola. Lubitsch is a director of surfaces that continually reveal themselves to be illusions, and thus pointing to the absurdity of human existence. —Jan-Christopher Horak
Production: Paramount Publix Corp. Distribution: Paramount Publix Corp. Based on the play A Becsuletes Megtalalo by László Aladár. Screenwriter: Samson Raphaelson. Adaptation: Grover Jones. Cinematography: Victor Milner. Art Director: Hans Dreier. Music: W. Franke Harling. Cast: Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, Herbert Marshall, Charlie Ruggles.
Preserved by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation and The Film Foundation. Preserved from the 35mm nitrate studio print and a 35mm acetate dupe negative. Laboratory services by Fotokem, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Inc., Simon Daniel Sound. Special thanks to Library of Congress, George Willeman, British Film Institute, Universal Pictures.
Genres: Romantic Comedy
Other Films by Ernst Lubitsch
Like Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, Lubitsch’s film was widely criticized upon release for trying to find laughs in Hitler’s assault on civilization and, in this case, the desperate and tragic situation in Poland. But on its 75th anniversary, it remains a black-humored classic and one of the most profound comedies ever made. Jack Benny and …
Aging playboy Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) dies and dutifully heads directly to hell, where the lobby looks very similar to massive, marbled bank branch. The devil (Laird Cregar) greets Van Cleve, and agrees to hear his story before admitting him below. Thus the film proceeds backwards through the touchstones of Van Cleve’s life: his …