That Lady in Ermine (1948)

“I’m in love with your great-great grandmother — I have been since the moment I entered this castle!”

Synopsis:
In 1800s Italy, a Hungarian (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) invading the castle of newlywed Countess Angelina (Betty Grable) falls for a painting of Countess Francesca, Angelina’s lookalike ancestor. Soon he finds himself enamored with Angelina herself, which makes Angelina’s husband (Cesar Romero) increasingly jealous.

Genres:

Review:
This amusing costume farce — co-starring Betty Grable (the highest-paid Hollywood performer in 1947) and a delightfully tongue-in-cheek Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. — is a heady mixture of fantasy, historical drama, romance, musical interludes, jealousy, and humor, all presented in gorgeous Technicolor. Fairbanks’ performance as the lovestruck Colonel (who knew he was such a natural comedic actor?) is indubitably the highlight of the film (check out his Cheshire Cat grin as he dreams of Francesca/Angelina), while Grable — with her bouncy blonde curls — is appropriately luminous and feisty in the title role, and even manages to show off her million-dollar legs in one fun dance scene (see the poster image). Although there aren’t quite enough songs to classify That Lady as a full-steam musical, the first ditty — “Ooh! What I’ll Do (To That Wild Hungarian)” — is enormously catchy. All in all, this one is great fun.

P.S. Otto Preminger took over direction of the film when Ernst Lubitsch died mid-production, but the transition is seamless.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. as Col. Ladislas and The Duke
    TLE Fairbanks
  • Betty Grable as Francesca/Angelina
    TLE Grable
  • Cesar Romero as Mario
    TLE Romero
  • Harry Davenport as Angelina’s loyal servant
    TLE Davenport
  • Effective set designs and historical costumes
    That Lady Set Design
  • A clever, “realistic” portrayal of characters emerging from portraits
    TLE Paintings
  • Many genuinely amusing, tongue-in-cheek moments — as when Francesca carries — then flies — the Colonel upstairs
    Flying

Must See?
Yes. This unusual fairy-tale-for-adults is a surprisingly enjoyable flick.

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One Response to “That Lady in Ermine (1948)”

  1. A must, but with definite reservations.

    I hadn’t seen this (until now at youtube), but I’d read the assessment, so I was very much looking forward to it. Everything stated in the assessment is true. But, to me, it’s simultaneously half-true.

    This movie wants to be much better than it actually is. The storyline itself is fine. But then there’s the actual script. About half of it works as charming entertainment (and much of that is very clever and inventive indeed). But the film weaves in and out. By turns, parts work and then parts don’t – and much of what doesn’t work seems to indicate when the script (esp. the dialogue) is inspired and when it isn’t.

    Of course, if you think of it as something of a roller-coaster ride – with peaks and valleys – you may not mind overall and you may enjoy yourself. Myself, I was hoping the effervescence would be sustained.

    That said, the cast members clearly seem to be having fun (I esp. like the sequence in which Romero reads the palms of the leads; hilarious) – and Grable (who had just impressed me in ‘I Wake Up Screaming’) and Fairbanks, Jr. (who is especially good when he realizes he magically has the ability to sing like an opera tenor) work quite well together.

    I have to make special mention of Walter Abel as Horvath, Fairbanks, Jr.’s right-hand man (quite often shouted at in command). Abel turns in a wonderfully understated performance and I loved watching his puzzled looks as Fairbanks, Jr. goes down a few notches as a stern commander when he falls in love. This gives way to a completely unintended but nevertheless refreshing bit of mild homoeroticism – pointed up when Fairbanks, Jr. finally turns to Abel when he feels lost and needs advice. Abel explains his concern:

    “Remember how you used to shout at me? ‘Horvath!!!’ And how I would jump. I miss that, sir. There are men who are born to shout – and others who are born to jump. I happen to be a jumper.”

    (Works for me.)

    Reportedly, Grable and Preminger disowned the final film, and it’s not hard to understand why. There was a missed opportunity for something more memorable.

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