That Girl from Paris (1936) – reviewed by George

This is a “cute”movie, in the best possible meaning of that word. I’ve read that with the advent of talkies, opera singers were very popular as stars and costars, and this must have lasted into the 1940s because I’ve reviewed an Esther Williams movie for this blog that costarred Lauritz Melchior of the Metropolitan Opera. This film stars Lily Pons, a very popular opera star of her day, along with Jack Oakie and Gene Raymond.
The movie starts with a very expensive church wedding between Nicole Leonie Martin (Lily Pons) and Paul Joseph Louis DeVry (Gregory Gaye). The bride is quite beautiful in a cap of flowers, which in close-up turn out to be gems, and a white satin wedding gown that is not full but loosely fits the figure. When the priest? minister? says, Do you take this woman? Paul J.L. Devry says, “Yes.” When the question is asked of the bride-to-be, Do you take this man? Nicole says emphatically, “No”. Because, she says, she has always done everything her uncle (Ferdinand Gottschalk) wanted, but she won’t do this. Her uncle is aghast and warns her, “He holds your contract! You will never sing again!” She leaves and is followed by reporters. She says, “I’ll give them a chase!” So this is a very contemporary moment – the pursuit by paparazzi! But after all, this is 1936 and the moment is changed when Nicole begins to vocalize to a melody that exactly fits a fast car chase. She manages to elude the reporters, changes clothes with a farm woman, and gets a ride back to Paris with Windy McLean (Gene Raymond). Along the way they stop at an outdoor restaurant and Nicole sings “The Call to Arms”. Windy is the leader of a four-man band called Windy McLean and his Wildcats (when they are in the states add the tagline,”Featuring Clair Williams”), with Windy on sax, Whammo (Jack Okie) on drums or banjo, Butch (Mischa Auer) on piano, and Frank (Frank Jenks) on clarinet. Their job is on a cruise ship, and Windy was out exploring in a touring car before the ship’s departure for New York that night.
Nicole then decides to stow away and slips into their cabin. When caught, after the ship has sailed, she is held for deportation back to France once the ship docks in NYC, at which time the band will be fired without a reference.
Finally back in New York, we meet Clair, played by a 6th billing-receiving Lucille Ball(!) and “Hammy” Hammacher, played by Herman Bing. Mr. Bing I had never heard of, but research revealed that he was a character actor who wildly exaggerated his native German accent for laughs, and he gets plenty. When an Immigration officer tries to arrest him as an accessory to hiding the illegal French girl, he says,” Ax-essory! Ax-essory? What is this?” And later, “I’m zo upcited! …… I’m all needles and zafety pins.”
And with Immigration chasing Nicole we have another very contemporary moment.
The movie is full of music, about equally divided between swing and opera. On the swing side: all of the band’s numbers, plus Jack Oakie sings “Moonface” and “Love and Learn”. Representing opera, Lily Pons sings two arias, Una Voce Poco Fa from “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini, and Tarantella by Panofka, both of which were conducted by Andre Kostelanetz. Plus she sings the already noted “The Call to Arms”, and “Seal It with a Kiss”. The contemporary songs are by Arthur Schwartz (music) and Edward Heyman (lyrics). And the movie is fill of comedy. The script is very clever and funny, very well-written by P.J. Wolfson and Dorothy Yost. The movie is A Pandro S. Berman Production from RKO Radio Pictures, Photographed by J. Roy Hunt, and Directed by Leigh Jason.

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