Ernst Lubitsch was known for his sexual farces. Heaven Can Wait is just one of his many movies spoofing marriage, and in the process illustrating a number of truths about what it means to say “I do.” But I was primarily engaged by the supporting characters in this film. Perhaps that’s why the parenting lessons Lubitsch liberally supplied struck me so much more this time than his marital wisdom. Here are a few lessons from the cynical director:
Expose Your Child to the Opposite Sex Early
A boy who falls for the ladies in his pre-teens will learn ambition early. He’ll discover, according to Lubitsch and screenwriter Samson Raphaelson, that gifts earn him affection, and the greater the number of gifts, the greater the love. This early training will motivate him to make a name for himself—and, of course, earn the big bucks.
You can build on this valuable training by hiring a comely French tutor to teach him more than one new language when he reaches his teens.
This hire will solidify his conviction that life is but a long seduction.
Spoil Your Child
You might fear giving your kid endless funds and no responsibilities. You might assume that he will become a hopeless waster, lying around and expecting others to cater to him. But if you’ve given him ambition via the ladies, you don’t need to fear. Indulge away.
If you instead raise him with rules and standards, he’ll grow up to become such a prudish dullard that he’ll actually compare himself to a suit, admitting, as cousin Albert does, that he’s not “flashy” or of a “stylish cut” but “sewed together carefully.” In Ernst Lubitsch’s world, a man like Albert (Allyn Joslyn), who brags that his “lining is good,” is never going to win the affections of a woman as vivacious and beautiful as Martha (Gene Tierney). He’ll get this bored response to his heartfelt wooing instead:
And the wooing by his spoiled cousin? Yeah, that’s a bit more successful:
Do Not Outcast Your Kid—Unless You Like Your Spouse
In her day, Martha’s elopement may have led to quite a scandal, innocent as it may appear now. But her parents’ decision to boot her out for life means they spend their days fighting over who gets the comics first. You know your life has reached a sad pitch when you can become this inflamed over the plight of the Katzenjammer Kids:
Spare yourself the misery of too much alone time with your spouse. Forgive your kid.
Keep Your Own Dad Around; He’ll Be Needed
If you were raised in a more structured household, you may be a little innocent about the facts of life, such as what your son has been up to with the French tutor you hired. At 43, you may need your father to enlighten you that your son is both drunk and debauched.
And when that son makes a wreck of his life after one too many dalliances, you may not be able to save his marriage for him (if you’re still around). But his wiser grandpa might just pull it off, especially if he’s hilarious and savvy and anything like Charles Coburn (who supplies at least 50 percent of the film’s best lines).
And there you have it. Valuable advice for the worldly parent, courtesy of Lubitsch. I hope you were reading carefully. You may need it one day.