Monday, September 13, 2010

The Royal Life Is So Tough

Since my satellite dish is out, I have to rely on my stash of dvds until things are put right.  One of my favorite movies is The Gay Deception with Francis Lederer and Frances Dee.  This was when gay meant happy, way back in the 1930's.

What a terrific movie this is with a fine script, direction by William Wyler, 3 time Oscar winner (Ben-Hur, The Best Years of Our Lives and Mrs. Miniver) and spot-on acting from everyone.

Francis Lederer, a wonderful actor from Europe who never managed to catch on here but should have been a huge star, plays a bellboy but is actually Prince Allesandro of Allesandria.  Frances Dee ( dishy Joel McCrea's wife of 57 years) plays a mousy secretary with big dreams who takes a $5000 windfall to NYC to have a month of living like the elites she has longed to emulate.

The movie is perfection.  There is nothing I don't like about it.  Lionel Stander and Akim Tamiroff do a brief masterful turn as two Allesandrian con-men. 

But as I was watching it for perhaps the 25th time, I began to think about all the movies where royals  need a break from the strenuous life as a royal and decide to mingle with the peasants.  This was Wyler's first outing at this theme as he later did Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

We seem to be preoccupied with royals in a way.  In real life, I think Americans have little or no regard for royals except as curiosities.  Of course we loved Diana.  But in America, where the foundation of our beliefs is "All men are created equal" the notion of elites lording it over the population is annoying.  What makes them special?  They don't conduct themselves well--Princess Zara has piercings and Prince Charles should quietly stay at home and quit lecturing the rest of us.  Duchess Fergie famously had her toes sucked in the tabloids and even Princess Diana had more affairs than one can count on two hands and 10 toes.

It would be hard to believe either Charles or his squeeze, Camilla, have had enough of being royals and want only to go down to the pub for a pint.  No, they want Bolly in the palace solarium.

This is an American conceit--that the average citizen has a life so wonderful (true) that the effete royals envy us (they would if they had that much brain power).  You don't see stories like this coming out of Europe where they have had 1000 years of royalty and all that implies.

I'm sure you can come up with other movies that fit into this theme.  About two weeks ago I caught parts of the exceedingly dreary The Prince And Me.  That should kill off the genre for good but it won't.  Some other hapless screenwriter will try to put a new and more modern spin on it, but it will be hard to beat The Gay Deception, which is a work of art.

Francis Lederer


SimpleGifts said...

Thank you, Robin, for the wonderful comments about THE GAY DECEPTION. This delightful film deserves recognition. I always choke up a bit when I watch Mirabel taking tea alone after being snubbed by the society ladies. Frances Dee plays the scene brilliantly. And I love the way Francis Lederer tells Dee, in the restaurant, that he will make the changes about himself she wants if she will promise to stay just as she is. Great stuff.

Robin O'Neill said...

Frances Dee is perfection in that scene. I actually thought a lot about the scene preceding it when Benita Hume is so mean. Did I want to say I found nothing wrong with this movie? The scene isn't wrong for the movie but it does make me uncomfortable. I love it when he calls her Mirabella. I love love love the final scene where he bends his knees to get to her level in order to kiss her (so gentlemanly and sexy!) and then tears the ornaments off her hat.
"Oh Mirabel you're all todays and no tomorrows." It's all great. Excuse, please!