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THAT LADY IN ERMINE (directors: Ernst Lubitsch/Otto Preminger; screenwriters: Samson Rafaelson/based on the German opera “Die Frau im Hemelin” by Rudolph Schanzer & Ernst Welisch; cinematographer: Leon Shamroy; editor: Dorothy Spencer; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Betty Grable (Francesca/Angelina), Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (Colonel Ladislas Karolyi Teglas/The Duke), Cesar Romero (Count Mario), Walter Abel (Major Horvath/Benvenuto), Reginald Gardiner (Alberto), Harry Davenport (Luigi), Virginia Campbell (Theresa), Whit Bissell (Giulio); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ernst Lubitsch; 20th Century Fox; 1948)
“A drab fluff musical comedy costume period piece, that has a ridiculous fantasy narrative.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Ernst Lubitsch (“Ninotchka”/”To Be or Not to Be”/”Trouble in Paradise”) died from a heart attack at age 55 during the first month of filming and was replaced by Otto Preminger, whose cold personality, the opposite of the joyous and warm-hearted Lubitsch, turned off the cast. It’s a drab fluff musical comedy costume period piece, that has a ridiculous fantasy narrative, forgettable music, miscast stars, stiffly apes the German operetta“Die Frau im Hemelin” by Rudolph Schanzer & Ernst Welisch and lacks the ‘Lubitsch Touch.’ Writer Samson Rafaelson can’t get a handle on it to even make it tolerable. Studio boss Darryl Zanuck forced WW2 pin-up star Betty Grable onto Lubitsch, challenging him to make her an actress and hoping this would expand the future roles of his limited but popular studio star. Though the film bombed in the box office and with most critics, Grable’s performance is adequate and not the major reason for its failure.

Set in 1861, in the 300 year old mythical kingdom of Bergamo, in Southeastern Europe, where Princess Angelina (Betty Grable) is a dead-ringer for her great-great grandmother Countess Francesca (also Grable), who in the 16th century saved the castle from invaders and was known as the ‘lady in ermine.’ Francesca’s painting hangs in the castle along with the other ruling monarchs.

The dashing Hungarian Colonel Ladislas Karolyi Teglas (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.)and his hussars quickly conquer the kingdom of Bergamo on Angelina‘s wedding night to the cowardly Count Mario (Cesar Romero), whoflees the invasion and sneaks back to the conquered castle disguised as a gypsy. The colonel pines for the portrait of Angelina’s ancestor, Countess Francesca, and mysteriously at night her portrait comes to life as a ghost and haunts the colonel in his dreams.Meanwhile Angelina realizes she doesn’t love her weak husband and pines for the colonel and sings “Ooo, What I’ll Do to that Wild Hungarian.”

With the motto adhered to that ‘love conquers all,’ the colonel and the princess find a way to marry and save her kingdom. Unfortunately Preminger re-shot the film and it’s only the lush Technicolor that makes it easy to watch, as any subtle wit is lost, the nonsense becomes insurmountable, two musical numbers shot by Lubitsch were jettisoned and the happy ending is ho-hum.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”