As with most transitory phases in film history, the beginning of the talking era has its fair share of firsts. The Love Parade is the first sound film for legendary director Ernst Lubitsch, as well as the film debut for Broadway star, Jeannette Macdonald. It is also the first screen pairing of Macdonald and Chevalier, who would go on to make three more films together. It is often considered one of the best early sound films, due to Lubitsch’s creative use of music and sound. As often as he employs sound and dialogue as a means of conveying romance and comedy, he uses the absence of it to the same effect. Many of the pivotal scenes take place behind closed doors (or windows), where the audience in and out of the film is left wanting, in the best way possible.
With The Love Parade, Lubitsch is very much exploring familiar ground; it is a sophisticated “European” comedy that plays with class and gender. More so than his other films though, he does seem to be more self-aware with his comedy than usual. Most of the best scenes and lines are extremely self-reflexive, poking fun at the form and expectations of his brand of gendered misunderstandings. In spite of one periphery character commenting that a man is a man and a woman is a woman, and to change that is to ask for trouble, Lubitsch’s gender reversal goes far deeper than that. The comedy generally is not centered on the absurdity of a woman in a position of power or authority, but the absurdity of the role of the “wife”. Chevalier marries for love, accepting the subservient position that comes with being married to a Queen without him becoming a king. After just a month though, he is bored and confined. He has no personal freedom or opportunity to express himself, and despite his military experience his opinions and suggestions are immediately dismissed due solely to his second class status in his marriage.
Unfortunately, few of the musical sequences are particularly interesting in The Love Parade. Two stand out though, an early sequence about leaving Paris that utilizes windows as the center-piece, and my personal favourite, a slapstick routine between two supporting characters. In reality, the two “common” servants really steal the show. They are far more compelling and entertaining than the leads, then again, I am not a huge fan of either Macdonald or Chevalier. The film has some great moments, but very few stand out in Lubitsch’s oeuvre. Though it is a strong example of an early sound film, The Love Parade remains only a bottom/middle-tier Lubitsch.