Friday, Turner Classic Movies is highlighting the movies of Ernst Lubitsch, one of my favorite writer/directors. Known for “The Lubitsch Touch“, his films were sophisticated romantic comedies that often pushed the boundaries of the 1930s culture he was working in. (That’s why they were often set in European capitals, to provide a veneer of the exotic to American audiences and an excuse for hinting at sex.) Sadly, I note that several of these movies, while once available on DVD, are now out of print (according to Amazon), so take this opportunity to check these classics out for free.
The Shop Around the Corner (Friday, 1/28, 10:30 AM ET) — Perhaps the best-known of his movies (given its status as a “Christmas movie” and the 1998 remake as You’ve Got Mail), Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan feud at work as sales clerks while falling in love as pen pals. There’s a surprisingly dark subplot about the store owner, his wife, a smarmy co-worker who may be getting too close to her, and a gunshot “accident”, demonstrating how Lubitsch handled mature material through suggestion and implication. Adults know what’s going on without visually wallowing in anything or forcing it in front of younger viewers. These films reward attention and reveal new details on repeated viewings. As you know what will happen, the small moments between Sullavan and Stewart take on additional depth and meaning.
To Be or Not to Be (Friday, 1/28, 12:30 AM ET) — If you haven’t heard of the former, how about this one? Jack Benny and Carole Lombard (in what became her final film) fight as married Polish actors trying to satirize and then avoid the Nazis. It came out in 1942, making it both prescient and nose-thumbing. It also needs the time period for context, as Mel Brooks demonstrated in his 1983 remake.
Ninotchka (Friday, 1/28, 2:30 PM ET) — My favorite of the batch being shown, it’s Greta Garbo being funny as a strict Soviet agent seduced by the charms of Paris and playboy Melvyn Douglas. The politics — where the hedonism of the western countries is shown as superior to the cold stereotypical restrictions of the relatively new mechanized Russia — seem quaint today, but Garbo is wonderful falling in love with a ridiculous hat. This was also remade, with songs, as Silk Stockings. If so many of his movies are seen as worth redoing, Lubitsch must be doing something right!
(My favorite Lubitsch of all of his is difficult to decide. I do very much like Design for Living, about an artistic threesome and how love (really sex) affects the creative process, as well as the lesser-known Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, in which Claudette Colbert becomes the rich Gary Cooper’s eighth wife, and decides to punish him by withholding her favors.)
The Merry Widow (Friday, 1/28, 4:30 PM ET) — If you think you know Jeanette MacDonald from her horrible operatic duets with Nelson Eddy and Maurice Chevalier from his old roue in Gigi, this will make you rethink them both. I’m trying to remember if I’ve seen this one before, but their two previous musicals together — found in the Criterion Eclipse set — are eye-opening. He’s suave and sexy! She’s playful and lusty! In this one, he’s a prince, she’s a rich widow, and he has to make love to her to keep her finances in the country. You may also want to check them out in Love Me Tonight, not Lubitsch but another royal musical being shown by TCM on Thursday morning at 1 AM Eastern.
Trouble in Paradise (Friday, 1/28, 6:30 PM ET) — Kay Francis becomes part of a love triangle with two jewel thieves and con artists. Early Lubitsch, so it’s not as heart-warming, more caper-ish.
Other Films of Note
Night of the Lepus (Saturday, 1/29, 3:45 AM ET) — Late night camp classic about killer bunnies, excuse me, “giant man-eating rabbits”. Gather the kids!
Pandora’s Box (Friday, 12/24, Midnight ET) — The classic silent film starring Louise Brooks, whose immortal bob inspired a timeless look. I’m not sure I understand the movie, but it’s certainly something to watch. Take note: last time I recorded this, it cut off early, so pad the time past the stated two hours if you don’t want to be disappointed.