One Hour with You (1932)

Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Screenwriters: Samson Raphaelson
Adapted from: Only a Dream by Lothar Schmidt
Cast: Maurice Chevalier, Jeanette MacDonald, Genevieve Tobin, Charles Ruggles, Roland Young
Nomination: Picture

It seems strange to describe a film that takes infidelity so lightheartedly as charming, but that’s exactly what One Hour with You is: charming.  Having Maurice Chevalier as the main character and narrator, though, goes a long way in making that description possible, as does the farcical nature of the story.  And of course, there’s Ernst Lubitsch and his eponymous touch bringing wit, cleverness, and effervescence to the proceedings.

The premise of the film seems to have been inspired by the French phrase cinq à sept, which refers to having a tryst during that time of day between getting done with work and eating dinner—cinq à sept literally means “five to seven.”  That in itself probably best explains the film’s carefree approach toward the characters’ extramarital affairs (actual or perceived).  In fact, the central relationship—the marriage between Andre and Colette—is treated as anomalous, almost as a crime against decency.

While the plot is entertaining and fun, it is conflicting to figure out how we should feel about the goings on.  Are we supposed to be rooting for Andre to sleep with Mitsi?  He and Colette are so sweet and happy together that it becomes trying to watch him avoid Mitsi only to be swayed by her seductive wiles.  That’s not to say that Mitsi is bad, per se, because Andre, too, is all about getting as close to giving into temptation as possible.  Then again, One Hour with You is a comedy of manners, a satire of class and high society.  These characters aren’t supposed to be like everyday people; they’re caricatures of parodies that lampoon the stereotypical idea of how the well-to-do live their high life.  Everything is as surreal and absurd as the best of Luis Buñuel.

There’s also an underlying cynicism that pushes the film forward.  No matter how happily married Andre and Colette are the film basically tells us that they are going to be pulled into the arms of another at some point, so it’s better for it to happen now, right…?  It’s a disappointing conceit, to be sure, but there is a silver lining: Andre and Colette are shown as being so compatible that it’s believable that nothing could split them up. 

Ultimately, that turns out to be the case; it’s just an odd situation overall that leads them to be happier with each other.  Really, the ending is above all peculiar.  The indication is that Andre and Mitsi did sleep together, but Colette is compelled to forgive him because she kissed Adolph, so… what’s the takeaway here?  I can’t answer that yet, but the film itself is, as mentioned above, charming, so perhaps us granting the film forgiveness is the message we should be basking in once we reach the end.