Is this the worst scene of a film signed Lubitsch? Lubitsch shot only 8 days of footage before he died. Otto Preminger then took over and finished what Lubitsch had left fully prepped: blame is hard to apportion. The songs are by the great Hollander and Robin but not their best moment. The choreography is like an improvised barn-dance in a palace and stompingly inelegant. Even the costumes must be amongst the most shapeless, garish and excessive the 40s have to offer; Fox, however, was also the home of Carmen Miranda so there might yet be worse (or better!).
The colour is that brightly saturated and garishly hued Technicolor that became the signature look of Fox musicals, one that audiences remembered fondly years after it disappeared. Betty Grable is still bright and bubly but as far from mittel-Europe, Operetta and Lubitsch as you can possibly get. At the beginning of the film, when she and Cesar Romero avow their love and part, you imagine Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall saying those lines, savour what might have been; and look on harshly at what one’s left. The Lady in Ermine is part of Grable’s downward slide as a box-office star.
Lubtisch was a director of taste who taylored his films with great care to a achieve a distinctive style through texture, the particular arrangement of elements of mise-en-scene to create a conceptual bubble, an invisible force-field around this fictional world so that these particular types of characters could exist and act, some have called it Lubitschland. Had he survived the shoot and seen what we now do, the result might have killed him. One can’t watch The Lady in Ermine ‘straight’ but does it lend itself to camp? Is it so bad it’s good or is it merely bad and unbearable? Worth a look and worth a think.