Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: The Big Pond

the big pond indexBased on a 1928 play of the same name this is the first film that Preston Sturges received a credit for, though he’s apparently only responsible for dialogue rather than script or story according to IMDB. A very early Paramount musical which stars Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert, George Barbier and Frank Lyon, quite unusually this was shot both in English and in French at the same time and though I’ve only seen the English version I’d be amazed if the French take wasn’t equally as charming.

Initially set in Venice chewing gum mogul Henry Billings (George Barbier) is appalled that his young daughter Barbara (Claudette Colbert) is off in the city alone with a guide, no matter how refined he is, and when we cut to the duo Pierre (Maurice Chevalier) is singing a love song to Barbara (Claudette Colbert) so Henry well may have been right to worry about the man’s intentions. Barbara’s fiancé Ronnie (Frank Lyon) then pops up as he has travelled over to Venice to find out why Barbara hasn’t returned to the US, and is a shitty moany type who asks “Have you fallen for some crazy foreigner?” and when she says that she has he angrily rants that Pierre is “Some garlic eating spiggoty”.

Henry has a Machiavellian plan to foil his daughter’s new romance however, by suggesting Pierre should travel with them to America and work in his factory, convinced that a French man could not possibly fit in with life in the United States, or do a day’s hard work for that matter. A trip by boat sees Pierre and Barbara duet on the song “The Nightingale” which is a perky effort with some cute lyrics though very, very short, and then we’re in America and Henry’s scheme is put in to practice. There are some bumps along the road but as you might expect this has a happy ending, even though Barbara is initially appalled at Pierre turning out to be a successful businessman.

Its strong point is the dialogue and there’s many an amusing moment with highlights including Ronnie telling Pierre about his clumsy seduction techniques, Pierre taking every shitty job that he’s given on the chin and belting out a number of fun songs, and the way he charms nearly everyone he meets is engaging too. Throw in some amusing “Fish out of water” tropes, a fun friendship between Pierre and young maid Jenny, and the fact that Henry’s father is an amusing blowhard and when he’s finally on Pierre’s side his drunken singing is very funny indeed, and you’ve got yourself a really likeable movie.

Chevalier went on to become a much loved actor and singer and you can see why on the basis of this, he’s a charming so and so and then some, and Claudette Colbert is equally as good, not taking any nonsense from her parents or fiancé(s), though it’s a shame she’s not in it a little more. Barbier deserves a lot of credit for making this so enjoyable as well, and Lyon makes for a suitable sort of villain, and while I wish there was a couple more songs otherwise this is an impressive early musical and an auspicious start for Sturges.

★★★1/2

Alex Finch.
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