Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
Max Ophuls’ first feature, released in 1932, seems a conscious emulation (and sort of send-up) of Lubitsch. Not only is it set partly in the Bavarian Alps, the setting of several early Lubitsch films, it features operetta elements, and when its characters describe a stereotypical movie director, he’s portly, smokes a cigar, and has a “touch.” The picture is of the movies-about-making-movies genre: It focuses on a Bavarian girl who skis into a location shoot, then is considered for the lead role when the star of the production quits. The entire film crew pays court to the ingénue. The cinematographer promises to make her beautiful. The composer promises to write great songs for her. The writer promises to give her great lines — and is promptly told to shut up, because who cares what writers think?
Ophuls gives the picture a glancing, slapdash quality that’s a far cry from the silky elegance of his mature style; yet it’s confident, light on its feet, and pretty sharp about the way in which movie making tends to be all mixed up with sex and titillation. The movie is probably at its cleverest when poking around issues of fame and celebrity. When the girl — she has the comically un-Hollywood name of Gretl Krummbichler — boards the train that will take her to Berlin, the whole town sees her off; her association with movies has transformed her from a routine postal worker into a sort of aristocrat. Realizing this, Gretl’s onetime suitor wears a rueful expression. He’s waving goodbye to a dream.
Surprisingly, the screenplay undermines the fantasy inherent in its premise. It gradually becomes apparent that Gretl’s lack of talent is insurmountable, and she’s fired while shooting a musical number on an opulent, Venice-inspired soundstage. When the original lead actress returns — she’s made up with her costar husband — everything finally clicks, both in the fictional movie and in the one we’re watching. Ophuls signals this with a long, complicated tracking shot — hey, a Max Ophuls shot! — that brings together the crew members in a way that emphasizes their shared professionalism and dedication to the craft of movies. The shot reminded me of the one surveying the orchestra in Sturges’ great “Unfaithfully Yours.” Both reveal secondary players as essential cogs in highly functioning systems.
The system here is the film crew, and it’s a system that’s incapable of assimilating the unrefined, workaday Gretl. But she eventually finds her place. In the final scenes she departs Berlin with a new lover. They go not to Bavaria but to Venice — the real one this time. They’re a truly modern couple: Their lives reflect the movies even as they remain apart from them.
- “The Company’s in Love” shares some themes with “Thomas Graal’s Best Film,” which I wrote about back here.