CAFE METROPOLE, a mildly amusing bonbon confection from 1937, reteams Tyrone Power and Loretta Young, fresh from frolicking in Love Is News, and puts them in a “Continental comedy” set around a chic Parisian club.
Paris. The exclusive ‘Café Metropole’ caters to the well-heeled, with suave owner ‘Victor Lobard’ (Adolph Menjou) attending to the rich and royal. When inebriated American swell ‘Alexander Brown’ (Power) can’t cover a huge baccarat bet (on money Monsieur Victor ran up to frantically cover his own debts), Victor concocts a scheme where the now-entrapped Yank impersonates an exiled White Russian Prince, with the idea to ensnare a rich heiress. Enter ‘Laura Ridgeway’ (Young), daughter of a wealthy businessman (Charles Winninger). Midwest-valued Dad warns headstrong filly daughter “I have one but rule about ‘titles’: if they’re charming they’re fakes; if they’re genuine they’re stupid.”
Hold the borscht: what about the real ‘Prince Alexis Paneiev’ (Gregory Ratoff), reduced to working as a waiter, but filled with fierce ardor over his lineage (his pride massaged by the lure of francs to replace vanished Czarist rubles)? Can ardor-bitten homegrown Doodles outfox sly Old World gamesmen? Will love trump money? Ever seen a romantic comedy from the 30’s?
Exuding glamour like it was oxygen, Young and Power (24 and 22 respectively) fill fur coats and tuxedos with the assurance of the absurdly attractive, and glide through the frivolity with ease, giddy Young shading Power by a bit. Born to look smart, dapper Menjou (voted Best-Dressed Man in America nine times) plays up the sophisticated snake stuff like a second skin, but Ratoff, with his Volga-wide accent, gets the best laughs, partially through his syntax-strangling delivery, but also because Jacques Duval’s script was from a story Ratoff conceived. *
“You I can forgive, because you are such an unmitigated scoundrel you might have been a member of my own family.”
Directed by Edward H. Griffith, aiming for a ‘Lubitsch touch’, and while the results can’t touch the master, they make for a painless enough way to spend 83 minutes. Grosses of $3,000,000 put it #72 in 1937. With Helen Westley and Leonid Kinskey (like Ratoff, a Russian émigré).
* Born in Samara, Russia, in 1893, Grigory Vasilyevich Ratner survived The Great War, fled the Bolsheviks, and made his way across the Atlantic to become Gregory Ratoff. He added his distinctive special vocal effects to the swarming gallery of accents Hollywood made memorable use of during the Golden Age. Voices to cherish—Peter Lorre, Oscar Homolka, S.Z.Sakall, Maria Ouspensakaya, Marcel Dalio, Akim Tamiroff, Vladimir Sokoloff, Sig Ruman, Bela Lugosi… let alone the diction brigade from Britain. Besides acting in 44 movies, Ratoff directed 30.