Rouben Mamoulian Francis Birrell - Essay

Francis Birrell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The film industry has produced many men of talent, but few artists. Mamoulian has always seemed to me one of those rare men. The picture of first love in Applause, of crime in City Streets, of the macabre in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, all had about them a distinction that transcended their Hollywood setting. His latest film Love Me To-night … shows what he can make of an old story in new dress, and more sensationally, perhaps, what he can make of Chevalier. Love Me To-night is a latter-day version of The Sleeping Beauty, with Chevalier as a tailor's apprentice, who bursts into a ducal château to get a bill paid, and carries off a princess dying of ennui and inbreeding.

Such a treatment of an old tale lends itself to facetiousness, the facetiousness of Mark Twain or of Will Rogers. But Mamoulian can keep this side of farce. He has the smile of comedy—a tender comedy—for the old fairy tale he is dressing up. Provided with the slop of the Hollywood studios, he has turned it into something almost sad. For Mamoulian is genuinely romantic without being sentimental…. A sequence in which the aristocratic guests play bridge so slowly that the cards can hardly fall on to the table recaptures the idiom of Grimm. The hunting scenes are as pretty as possible. The three duennas, bent over their tapestry, and sighing over the lover who never came to them, have a mediaeval charm. Though Love Me To-night is a hymn to democracy, Mamoulian does not too much "guy" the life of the château. So much for the distinction...

(The entire section is 647 words.)