Monte Carlo (1930)


CREDITS
BACKGROUND
PLOT
REVIEWS
RECORDINGS
MUSIC IN THE FILM


Paramount.
New York premiere, August 27, 1930.
Released October 4, 1930.
Produced and directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
85 minutes.

From the story Die Blaue Küste (The Blue Coast) by Hans Mueller, with an episode adapted from Monsieur Beaucaire by Booth Tarkington and Evelyn G. Sutherland. Screenplay: Ernest Vajda. Additional dialogue: Vincent Lawrence. Photogra­phy: Victor Milner. Art Director: Häns Dreier. Sound: Harry D. Mills. Movietone Recording.

The 1926 MGM silent called Monte Carlo is not based on The Blue Coast.
Jack Buchanan (Count Rudolph Farriere, AKA Paul the hairdresser)
Jeanette MacDonald (Countess Helene Mara)*
ZaSu Pitts (Berthe the maid)*
Tyler Brooke (Armand)
Claud Allister (Duke Otto von Liebenheim)*
Lionel Belmore (Count Gustave von Liebenheim)**
John Roche (Paul, the hairdresser)
Albert Conti (Duke Otto’s companion)
Donald Novis (Monsieur Beaucaire)
Helen Garden (Lady Mary)
David Percy (Herald)
Erik Bey (Lord Winterset)
Sidney Bracy (Hunchback at casino)
Geraldine Dvorak [Garbo “double”] (extra in casino)
Billy Bevan (conductor)
Frances Dee (receptionist)
Rolfe Sedan (hairdresser)
John Carroll (wedding guest officer)

*The American Film Institute directory gives the character names used in the press book, some of which obviously were changed before the film was actually shot. Jeanette’s rôle is listed as “Vera von Conti,” ZaSu Pitts as “Maria,” Claud Allister as “Prince Otto von Seibenheim,” and Lionel Belmore as “Duke Gustave von Seibenheim.” (Press books are invaluable guides to changes made during produc­tion, since they were often prepared well in advance.)

**Lionel Belmore replaced Edgar Norton who nevertheless received billing as Count Gustave.

NOTE: A German film called Melody of the Heart (UFA) directed by Häns Schwartz was released in the U.S. the same week as Monte Carlo, drawing atten­tion to the fact that both films had almost identical song sequences on a moving train. Although the German film was made a year earlier and had been released in Europe before Lubitsch began film­ing, he said he had not heard of it, and this was probably a coincidence.


Background

Lubitsch’s second musical film with Jeanette MacDonald is a delightful if overly superficial romp through the boudoirs and gambling casinos of the Riviera playland. One of its key songs, “Beyond the Blue Horizon,” became a standard that Miss MacDonald recorded three times during the next seventeen years and sang countless times in concerts and on the radio.

Her rôle in Monte Carlo is curiously un­sympathetic, that of a spoiled “Countess” with no past to speak of, willing to go to any lengths to maintain a luxurious standard of living. When marriage to a rich ninny is too repulsive, she determines to stay solvent by gambling. Unlike the endearing heroine of Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise, she is not even clever enough to steal. We never learn how she got her title which is not hereditary. Is she a once-wealthy widow? She wears no wedding ring. Or is she a camp-follower of the rich, down on her luck? The impersonality of the rôle is accented by the fact that no one calls her by her first name until the picture is almost over.

The rather dry quality of the film is accentuated by the second American film appearance of British music-hall star Jack Buchanan. Buchanan had scored on Broad­way in Charlot’s Revue (with Bea Lillie and Gertrude Lawrence) and came to Hollywood in 1929 to make the all-Techni­color Paris with Irene Bordoni. His filmic quality could best be described as “dapper,” and he did not win a permanent place in American hearts as so many of his countrymen did. After Monte Carlo, he returned to England where he became a national institution, starring in and often producing more than eighteen film musicals and many stage musicals before his death in 1957. He returned to Broadway several times and to Hollywood in 1953 when he played the egotistical director in The Band Wagon, arguably his finest film rôle.

Another English actor, Claud Allister, plays Miss MacDonald’s booby suitor, and ZaSu Pitts, star of von Stroheim’s epic Greed (1925), has a minuscule rôle as a maid. (Miss Pitts was a beautiful and brilliant actress in silent films, doing both drama and comedy. When All Quiet on the Western Front was previewed, it ran on the same bill with one of her comedies. The audience, having just laughed at her in one film, was still laughing when she had her first dramatic sound sequence as the dying mother. The studio promptly replaced her in the film, and thereafter she was typed as a vague eccentric, which of course she played superbly.)


Plot

Lubitsch’s use of action behind the credits when many films still used sign board titles is again in evidence. A pair of hands are seen dealing cards over a whirling strobe-light effect that emphasizes the lilting “Always in All Ways.” The music takes on a ceremonial tone and we are present at the preparations for a lavish wedding. The guests in summer finery are assembled as the chorus sings the triumphant “Day of Days.” But it is not a good day for a wedding.

The skies open and the ladies’ thin dresses are plastered to their bodies, their hair drooping under sodden garden hats. The men scramble for cover, still singing loudly. Worst of all, the bride has vanished, leaving her wedding dress on a chair. No, it is not a good day for a wedding.

The groom, Duke Otto von Liebenheim (Claud Allister), assures the astonished guests that he’ll bring the bride back if he has to drag her: “She’ll Love Me and Like It.”

At Monte Carlo, the runaway countess spurns Count Rudolph (Jack Buchanan), but finds her hairdresser “Rudy” (the count in disguise) irresistible.

OTTO:
I have a nasty temper though I keep it in control,
For after all, I really am a simple hearted soul.
BRIDESMAIDS:
He’s a simp, he’s a simp,
he’s a simp-le hearted soul.

OTTO:
But when the seeds of kindliness have failed to bear me fruit,
I then become, I must confess, a nasty tempered brute.

BRIDESMAIDS:
He’s an-ass, he’s an-ass,
he’s a nasty tempered brute.
(Copyright Famous Music Corp.)

At the train depot, Countess Helene Mara (Jeanette) makes her appearance just in time to catch the famous Blue Train. In her compart­ment, she doffs her fur coat, revealing lace “step-ins” and quite a bit of Miss MacDonald. “Five more minutes and I would have been married,” she sighs. The conductor inquires as to her destination and she asks him to suggest someplace. Well, he says, they go to Vienna…Monte Carlo… “Monte Carlo!” she cries. There she will win her happiness at the green tables!

The rhythm of the train wheels is picked up by the orchestra and, in a montage of clicking wheels, pumping pistons, and jets of steam the music accelerates:

Beyond the blue horizon waits a beautiful day.
Goodbye to things that bore me.
Joy is waiting for me.
(Copyright Famous Music Corp.)

She leans out the train window to sing to the harvesters in the fields, and from the farthest hilltop they wave back as they join her in the chorus. It is truly a stirring number, although never quite as precisely edited as we like to remember. (Beautiful Napa Valley substituted for the vineyards of southern France.)

Also trying his luck at the green tables is Count Rudolph Farriere (Jack Buchanan). He has a foolproof system. If he is standing next to a brunette, he bets on red. If he is standing next to a redhead, he bets on black. But what, inquires his friend Armand (Tyler Brooke), if he is standing next to a blonde? “I ask her where she lives.”

His blonde arrives in the person of the Countess. Rudolph is suddenly shy, but he has a new strategy. He tells Armand to accost her. Then Rudolph can slap his face and rescue the lady. Armand approaches the countess, who slaps his face herself. Her anger dissipates when she sees a hunchback (Sidney Bracy) further down the path. Happily she pays him fifty francs to touch his hump. The lady is superstitious.

Rudolph now decides on a new strategy. He follows her toward the casino in a marvelous tracking shot, telling her that luck will be hers if she will only stroke his hair—“caressingly.” She is intrigued but marches coldly on. As she vanishes through the doors of the casino, Rudolph cries that now she will lose everything. He turns and ponders his next move. Suddenly the door behind him opens a crack. A slender white arm creeps out and tousles his hair and the door snaps shut. If she wins now, Rudolph sighs happily, she is his.

Win she does. Soon her ten thousand francs are five million, and she has engaged a half dozen more servants. But her good fortune doesn’t make her any more disposed toward the brash young Count. She is cool to his flowers and midnight phone calls. In a charming duet, “Give Me a Moment, Please,” she keeps hanging up on him until he gives up. Then she hums the final strains of the song into her pillow. (Buchanan’s voice was electronically distorted to simulate a telephone voice, possibly the earliest time this was done.)

Rudolph is at his wits’ end when he and Armand run into Paul, a gentleman who boasts of living with the Countess. Paul confides that he is utterly devoted to her. Oh, if only they could see her in her negligée as he does! Rudolph is about to thrash the bounder when he learns that Paul is the Countess’s hairdresser. The three sing of the delights of the profession: “Trimmin’ the Women.” Paul (John Roche) is easily persuaded (for a small fee) to take a leave of absence, sending “Rudy” in his place.

The Countess’s maid, Berthe (ZaSu Pitts), instructs the new hairdresser (“brand new,” he assures her) in his duties. Above all he is not to flirt with chambermaids. “But to avoid any mis­understanding,” she simpers, “I am not a cham­bermaid.”

The Countess (Jeanette) finds herself in good hands with hairdresser Rudy (Jack Buchanan), actually a Count in disguise.

The Countess has taken so little notice of the Count that she doesn’t recognize the besmocked Rudy. Her recognition takes a different form. She eyes him carefully, then slips out of the room and returns in a far more elaborate, trans­parent negligee. She tells him she hates the name Rudolph, even Rudy. She will call him “Paul.” “Paul’s” first job is to bob the Countess’s shoulder-length hair. He makes numerous passes with the scissors, but can only bring himself to cut one curl for his watch. Then he performs an elaborate shampoo that leaves the lady splutter­ing suds. To appease her anger, he gently strokes her forehead. Her delighted moans and gasps of pleasure shock the eavesdropping Berthe. This is something new and they comment on the sensa­tion: “Whatever It Is, It’s Grand.”

Soon Count Rudolph has replaced the Countess’s chauffeur and lackeys. He can’t wait, he tells his friend Armand, until she fires her maid. Rudy’s charming nature isn’t the only reason the Countess is dismissing her servants, however. She is broke again. When “Paul” is told the news, he refuses to leave. He will work without pay.

Duke Otto arrives at this critical moment, seeking his errant fiancee. The Countess reluctantly agrees to marry him, but only for his money. Otto is overjoyed with her honesty. It will make theirs the happiest of marriages. He tells her again: “You’ll Love Me and Like It.”

Wistfully the Countess tells “Paul” that now she can keep him. He is horrified at this development and offers to keep her with his inheritance. The Countess is insulted. Quickly he changes his story, telling her that he has inherited luck, not money. He will gamble her small pittance into a young fortune. He pledges himself to her: “Always in All Ways.”

In a series of dissolves, they set out for the casino. First “Paul” and the Countess climb into the back seat of the limousine where they sit happily holding hands until they realize there is no driver. Next “Paul” is in the front seat with the Countess in the back, and finally they are both laughing in the front seat.

They find Duke Otto already at the gambling tables so the pair unreluctantly retreat to the park and the moonlit promenade overlooking the ocean. Hours later, “Paul” goes back to the casino alone with the Countess’s stake and she goes home to wait for him.

“Paul” returns with three hundred thousand francs he has “won” at the table and dares to claim a kiss. The lady is grateful for the money but scandalized by the kiss. At first she resists. Then to her own astonishment, she returns it passionately. Overwhelmed, she flees to her bedroom and locks the door against him, as he sings plaintively outside: “Give Me a Moment, Please.” Unsure of herself, she locks the door key into a drawer, the drawer key into a jewel box, and puts the jewel box key under her pillow so that she can safely finish the duet from her side of the locked door.

A clock with elaborate mechanical figures has mockingly chimed the hours throughout the night with oboes and bassoons. Now it announces the dawn with a flute reprise of “Always in All Ways.” Staggering with sleep, the Countess retrieves the sequence of keys until she can unlock the bedroom door.

She greets “Paul” awkwardly. After all, he must remember the difference between them. The only difference between them, he snarls, is that she is a woman and he is a man. “You’re not a man at all!” she resorts. His answer is to lock the boudoir door and carry her to the couch. “All right,” he leers sensually, “I’m not a man.”

“That’s what you get for being nice to your servants,” whimpers the Countess. She closes her eyes and, breathing heavily, awaits his next move. But “Paul” disappoints her. He storms out, leaving her alone.

She spends the rest of the day searching for “Paul.” Night falls. Duke Otto arrives to take her to the opera, but she can’t go unless “Paul” does her hair. The duke exits and “Paul” enters. Coyly the Countess tells him that she hasn’t been seeking him in his capacity as a hair­dresser. Coldly he replies that the only reason he has come to dress her hair is so that she will be an advertisement for him at the opera. Then all the women will come to him. The Countess is furious and tears her hair into wild disarray. This is the way she is going to the opera. She’ll tell everyone he did it. She’ll ruin him!

The opera is half over when she arrives. Duke Otto solicitously inquires after her hairdresser. Hairdresser! He is never to mention that word again. Frantically drumming her fingers on the arm of the chair, she leans forward to view the action on stage. The opera is Monsieur Beaucaire. “What is it about?” she snaps. Trembling, he tells her that it is about a hairdresser.

“I feel so foolish—why did you do it…” says the title on the photo. Distressed ladies in Lubitsch films soon found their problems resolved by men in evening clothes.

It’s a silly story, he tells her. A noble lady has fallen in love with a hairdresser. When she finds out who he really is, she throws him out. The Countess comments on the action as the stage lovers act out their story. Lady Mary (Helen Garden) tells the courtiers that if Monsieur Beaucaire should return, she’d drive him away again. Otto applauds loudly. On stage, a messenger arrives and tells the startled court that the mere barber is in reality a prince of France.

“Paul” appears in the box across from the Countess and she begins to suspect. She slips past the dozing Otto and joins him. Can he ever forgive her? Her words are echoed by Lady Mary on stage. Beaucaire (Donald Novis) denounces Lady Mary and leaves her forever. Lady Mary sinks weeping into a chair on stage. In in the box, the Countess is equally distraught.

I don’t like that ending,” consoles Rudolph. “I like happy endings.”

Train whistles and chug-chugging of a steam engine drown out the applause. The lovers are united on the Blue Train, singing “Beyond the Blue Horizon” as Rudolph crouches (somewhat uncomfortably) beside the Countess whose chiffon scarf streams gaily out the window of the rushing train.


Reviews

Monte Carlo was very well received by the critics. Outlook Magazine noted happily that, “Jeanette MacDonald slithers in and out of a good deal of expensive lingerie.” There were raves for the “Beyond the Blue Horizon” number, and most critics noted it was a musical without a dance number.

Even lesser Lubitsch was treasured amidst the trash that was appearing on the screen under the title “musical.” The New York World said, “And now they can preserve the reels of The Love Parade and Monte Carlo and burn all the rest, and nobody will even notice the loss.”

It is only now, with the complete library of Lubitsch works for comparison, that we find Monte Carlo wanting. Film historian William K. Everson wrote in program notes for a 1966 screening, “It opens beautifully…we have high hopes for the rest of the film. Alas, they are never quite fulfilled, and, despite charm and typical Lubitsch touches in terms of pantomimic comedy, it remains one of his lesser efforts.”


Recordings

(See Discography for further information)

“Beyond the Blue Horizon” (MacDonald)
“Always in All Ways” (MacDonald)

Though the other Monte Carlo songs remain little known in this country, many became standards in Britain and can still be heard there today.


Music in the Film

All music is by Richard Whiting and W. Franke Harling, lyrics by Leo Robin. In listing perform­ers after each title, “and” denotes a genuine duet, while commas between names indicate a sequence of singers.

When the countess thinks “Rudy” is using her to attract other lady customers, she dresses her own hair for the opera. (The fashions of 1930 were in transition between the “flapper” and the long, clinging lines of a few years later.)

Overture: “Always in All Ways,” “Beyond the Blue Horizon.”
“She’ll Love Me and Like It” (Allister, chorus)
“Beyond the Blue Horizon” (MacDonald, chorus)
“Give Me a Moment, Please” (Buchanan, Mac Donald)
“Give Me a Moment, Please” fragment reprise (Roche)
“Trimmin’ the Women” (Buchanan and Brooke and Roche)
“Whatever It Is, It’s Grand” (MacDonald and Buchanan)
“She’ll Love Me and Like It” reprise (Allister, MacDonald)
“Always in All Ways” (Buchanan, MacDonald)
“Give Me a Moment, Please” (Buchanan)
“Always in All Ways” reprise (Buchanan, MacDonald)

NOTE: A preview program dated August 27, 1930, lists a song called “A Job With a Future” sung by Jeanette and Jack Buchanan. This apparently was replaced by “Whatever It Is, It’s Grand.” The cue for the first song is still heard when “Paul” asks the Countess how long she will employ him.