Friday, February 2, 2024

The hotel of free exchange

One more of the movies that TCM had as part of its tribute to Gina Lollobrigida and that I had never seen before is Hotel Paradiso. It's another one that sounded interesting, so I recorded it and am now finally getting around to doing the review, having decided to space out the reviews on all of the Lollobrigida movies I recorded.

The movie informs us that it's set in Paris of la belle époque, that elegant era at the turn of the century that we would probably think of today in terms of the upper classes being upper-class twits in comedies of manners. After idyllic scenes, we see a man checking into a room at the Hotel Paradiso, that man being based on Georges Feydeau (the playwright who co-wrote the play on which the movie is based). He sits down to write, and writes... nothing, really.

Cut to a fashionable district not in the center of Paris. Henri Cotte (Robert Morley) is a building inspector, married to Marcelle (that's Lollobrigida). She considers herself a long-suffering wife even though she hasn't been married as long as her neighbors, the civil engineer Benedict Boniface (Alec Guinness) and his wife Angelique. Henri informs Marcelle that he's going to have to go away on a late-night inspection to the aforementioned Hotel Paradiso, on the grounds that one of the rooms may be haunted, and due to a contract dispute, Henri has to figure out what's really going on. Benedict is outside ostensibly working in his garden, and overhears the dispute, as does Angelique, who tells the couple to wait until they've been married 20 years.

In any case, it gives Marcelle the idea to visit Benedict, who has no small amount of sympathy for her, because he's just as long-suffering as Marcelle. In theory it would be nice if they could spend some time alone together. And wouldn't you know it, but the two of them are both going to be alone tonight, as Angelique finds out her sister is sick and needs her to visit. Angelique then complains about some junk mail they've gotten, which just happens to be for... the Hotel Paradiso! What a great place for Benedict and Marcelle to spend an evening together with nobody noticing them.

But things are going to get a lot more complicated. We know that Henri is going to the Paradiso ostensibly for work. And then up shows a Mr. Martin with his four young daughters fresh out of the convent school, taking the Bonifaces up on an offer to come and visit sometime. Marcelle shows up and Benedict suggests the Paradiso. But Martin overhears it, and heads off there with his kids, not knowing what kind of a hotel it really is.

Finally, there's Henri's nephew Maxime (Derek Fowlds a dozen years before Yes, Minister. He's got a think for the Bonifaces' maid Victoire, and they decide that since everybody else is out, why not finally have some alone time themselves as well. Of course, they pick the Hotel Paradiso as well. You can guess all the havoc that's about to ensue as everybody tries to keep from being seen with and by everybody else.

Hotel Paradiso is the sort of comedy of manners that was popular in the first half of the 20th century, but which for me isn't my favorite genre. It's supposed to be an elegant farce, but for me it's really the sort of movie that's closer to mean than funny, in that the characters don't come across as really likeable. Still, for people who enjoy this genre, they'll probably like it

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