The Smiling Lieutenant. 1931. USA. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Screenplay by Ernest Vajda, Samson Raphaelson, based on works by Leopold Jacobson, Hans Muller, Felix Bormann. With Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert, Miriam Hopkins, Charles Ruggles. 35mm. 88 min.
The third and perhaps most elegantly engineered of Ernst Lubitsch’s pre-Code musicals stars Maurice Chevalier as a boulevardier perhaps too much in love with love to make a commitment to any woman in particular. A lieutenant in the court of a short-tempered Ruritanian king (George Barbier), Chevalier’s Niki is enjoying an affair with a violinist (Claudette Colbert) from an all-female orchestra when a smile and a wave at his lady friend is intercepted by the kingdom’s dowdy, repressed princess (Miriam Hopkins, in her second film appearance), who is thrilled to think he’s flirting with her. Lubitsch’s ability to find the greatest import in the smallest details intrigued Bogdanovich throughout his career, from At Long Last Love to Squirrels to the Nuts.