A Paramount Picture - 1930
Directed by Ludwig Berger
Maurice Chevalier as Albert Loriflan
Frances Dee, O.P. Heggie, Stuart Erwin, Eugene Pallette,
Dorothy Christy, Cecil Cunningham, Tyler Brooke, Edmund Breese
Seeing a favorite performer in their earliest films is sometimes a startling experience: they can be so different from the way we've come to know them as to seem almost strangers. But when Frances makes her first appearance in Playboy of Paris, she is "our Frances," with the radiance and candor that always make her such a pleasure to watch. Paris was the first film to give her a major role, and about the role that there is an element of surprise, for Frances is playing quite a contentious character.
Yvonne: “You're discharged!”
With a song on his lips, Albert Loriflan (Maurice Chevalier) works as a waiter at Le Petit Café in Paris. That is, he works between battles with the proprietor's daughter, Yvonne Philibert (Frances), who fires him at every opportunity. When one of their rows escalates to a splashing match—the opponents flinging the contents of water glasses at each other—Yvonne again hollers, "You're fired!", and this time Albert takes her seriously.
Albert's march to the exit is halted by the café's proprietor, Philibert (O.P. Heggie), who has learned that Albert is about to come into a million-franc inheritance. Philibert intends to chisel in on the waiter's good fortune by tricking him into a 20-year contract complete with a "forfeit" clause: if Albert quits before the 20 years have passed, he must pay a forfeit of 400,000 francs. That clause, however, works both ways, and Philibert must pay the forfeit if he fires Albert, a technicality Albert uses to his own advantage when he realizes how Philibert has duped him.
Albert gleefully takes his revenge by becoming the worst waiter imaginable, spending his working hours in driving the customers away, and his evenings in gallivanting with a beautiful blonde (Dorothy Christy) on his arm. Yvonne's spite for Albert only grows, until Paul (Stuart Erwin), the dish washer at Le Petit Café, tells her that she and Albert fight so because they love each other. Yvonne's eyes fill with wonder: Paul may be right.
The newly-appointed leading lady smiles for
Paramount's still photographer.
When Frances started working as an extra in 1929, her father1 had given her an ultimatum: if she did not find substantial roles within one year, she must return to the University of Chicago and complete the studies interrupted by her desire to be an actress. Frances' year in Hollywood was coming to its end when Maurice Chevalier selected her to be his leading lady in Playboy of Paris. To quote Frances on the closeness of the call, "Whew!"2
That Paris is a musical raises the question, Does Frances sing? She rarely would in her films, but the Dee singing voice can be heard—briefly—in Playboy of Paris, traveling up and down a few scales as Frances' character is tutored in music (by Cecil Cunningham!)
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Special thanks to Fernando Silva, who made it possible for me to see Playboy of Paris.
1 In an article I wrote (under my pen name of Liz Chancellor) for Classic Images magazine, I reported that it was Frances' mother who had given Frances' Hollywood career the one-year ultimatum. However, I've since learned otherwise. As Frances told the story at Tufts University in 2003, the time limit was set by her father.
2 Transcript of Frances' interview at Tufts University, December 2003.