Monday Movie: So This Is Paris, by David Bax
Pre-Code is a term that generally is used to describe sound films produced by Hollywood before Joseph Breen took over the enforcement of the Hays Code, about a four or five year period. But that doesn’t mean the ribald sensibilities that define the era (or at least define our imaginations of it) materialized along with the introduction of sound. For some serious Pre-Code-style fun in a silent setting, look no further than Ernst Lubitsch’s randy, saucy So This Is Paris, a breathless farce about two married couples, each member of which is more interested in the woman or man to whom they are not wed.
That’s the hook, anyway. What really lingers in the memory is the exuberant inventiveness of Lubtisch’s filmmaking. It’s not so often we see intertitles in silent cinema as joke devices in and of themselves; one fibbing husband huffily excuses himself from his wife’s interrogations by feigning a need to nap and insists, “Let me lie in peace!” The emphasis is not mine. Later, a rapid-fire back and forth is derailed by one character’s lengthy soliloquy, for which Lubitsch hilariously declines to provide intertitles at all.
Then there are the flights of the fantastical. One character, haunted by the telltale cane he left behind in his lover’s apartment, dreams that the staff is whirling above his head and then stubbornly poking him in the face. Later, that same man is dressed down by his wife and literally shrinks in size before us.
So light on its feet is So This Is Paris that even its scant 80 minutes seems to feel like 40. And, despite being a silent movie, there’s a choreographed dance number that you’ll swear you can hear. It’s hard to imagine having any more fun with the sound on.