Provided with generous slices of comedy, skillfully handled by producer-director Ernst Lubitsch, this is for most of the 112 minutes a smooth, appealing and highly commercial production. Lubitsch has endowed it with light, amusing sophistication and heart-warming nostalgia. He has handled Don Ameche and Gene Tierney, in (for them) difficult characterizations, dexterously.
The Lazlo Bus-Fekete play [Birthday] covers the complete span of a man’s life, from precocious infancy to in this case, the sprightly senility of a 70-year-old playboy. It opens with the deceased (Ameche) asking Satan for a passport to hell, which is not being issued unless the applicant can justify his right to it.
This is followed by a recital of real and fancied misdeeds from the time the sinner discovers that, in order to get girls, a boy must have plenty of beetles, through the smartly fashioned hilarious drunk scene with a French maid at the age of 15, to the thefting of his cousin’s fiancee, whom he marries.
Charles Coburn as the fond grandfather who takes a hand in his favorite grandson’s romantic and domestic problems, walks away with the early sequences in a terrific comedy performance.
1943: Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Color Cinematography