Joe Pasternak, the canny producer who steered Deanna Durbin to superstardom in 1937 with "Three Smart Girls" and a subsequent string of expertly tailored vehicles, was responsible for revivifying Marlene Dietrich's career (which had been languishing in the doldrums)with the mega-hit comedy-western "Destry Rides Again" in 1939.He followed this up in 1940 With another smash, "Seven Sinners" with John Wayne, and then "Flame of New Orleans" in 1941.He obtained the services of the famous French director Rene Clair, director of the classic comedies "Le Million", "Un Chapeau de paille d'Italie" and "A Nous la Liberte" and a refugee at the time from the war in France, as well as the writing talents of Norman Krasna.
The story, set in New Orleans in 1841, concerns an adventuress out to ensnare a rich banker (Roland Young) and obliged (by some incautious behaviour) to invent an illegitimate cousin,who she is then later forced to impersonate in order to avoid her colourful past being revealed. The ensuing complications bring her into contact with a rough sea captain (Bruce Cabot), and one does not have to be a genius to guess that romance eventually triumphs over money. The main role is ideal for Dietrich, deliciously demure as the supposed Countess, and alluringly wanton masquerading as the naughty cousin. There are two particularly delightful comedy scenes: one where Dietrich sits at the piano demurely singing "Sweet is the Blush of May" to her fiance's strait-laced relatives and friends, and becoming increasingly desperate as she senses a rumour spreading round the room, initiated by an erstwhile St Petersburg acquaintance (Mischa Auer)of her reputation in that city: and another where on the eve of her marriage she is instructed in the facts of married life by the banker's aunt (Laura Hope Crews). Clair's deliciously light touch in such scenes makes the film a joy to behold. The small parts are meticulously cast and expertly played: Mischa Auer and Franklin Pangborn make an inspired double act as men-about-town, and Melville Cooper and Anne Revere as the banker's relatives are splendid.
The main reservations one has concern the casting of the two male leads: Bruce Cabot is a strictly B-league leading man, and not in Dietrich's class. She would have been much better served by John Wayne, who would have been ideal for the part, and with whom she did make a couple of films for Universal later on ("The Spoilers" and "Pittsburgh").Roland Young also is not ideally cast as the banker, a rather ineffectual figure, and Adolphe Menjou would have been a great improvement. However,they do not fatally detract from one's overall enjoyment of a delightfully witty and amusing comedy.