There’s something both charming and shocking about the song between Franzi (Claudette Colbert) and Princess Anna (Miriam Hopkins) in The Smiling Lieutenant. The two are unexpected friends in this moment, after all; the film begins with Franzi’s passionate love affair with Niki (Maurice Chevalier), which is interrupted by Anna’s royal prerogative in choosing spouses. Once married to Anna against his will, Niki continues to see Franzi, but when they’re discovered, the latter makes the surprising decision to help Anna win his regard.
An alliance between a mistress and a wife usually involves plots against the erring husband. The Other Woman with Cameron Diaz is simply the latest example. Since Niki was there first, and no marriage would have taken place had Anna been less public in her regal affection, we feel for both women, and appreciate Franzi’s sacrifice for the happiness of these two who are now bound together. (And honestly, why fight for the guy? I’ve never found Chevalier bearable. The man mugged from his twenties to his Gigi days.)
A wonderful union forms between the two women when Franzi goes through Anna’s music (including “Cloister Bells” and “Maiden’s Prayer”). Franzi’s disdain in evident as she pronounces each song’s name, and her next comment illustrates the indecent train of her thought: “Let me see your underwear.”
Franzi goes to the piano and begins to sing her advice, with words that could have come from the front page of Cosmo. Wanna win your man? Franzi has the answer: “Jazz Up Your Lingerie.” In fact, I checked. Sure enough, Cosmo’s Valentine’s-inspired photo gallery last spring: “Sexy Lingerie Your Guy Will Love.”
Thankfully, this is a pre-Code Ernst Lubitsch film, and we know that, funny as this start may be, we have much more suggestion in store. First, we see Anna in her formal everyday clothing and stance.
I don’t think I have to tell you what happens next. Where else can Anna’s love life go but up, with sexy Franzi as her guide? Honestly, with the kind of chemistry these two women have together, it’s a shame they don’t hook up and leave annoying Niki behind. But improving her ex’s love life—and bringing happiness to his wife—are what this mistress does instead. Kind of romantic, isn’t it? (You can see the whole clip here.)