Rosalind Russell recounts a funny, although surely embarrassing story about movie kisses when working on Under Two Flags with Ronald Colman:
Then I kept on at Fox to do Under Two Flags with Ronald Colman. (It was another of my Lady Mary jobs; I never even got to meet Claudette, who played Cigarette.)
Colman sent white lilacs to my dressing room and invited me to tea in his bungalow.
It was exciting; he had a butler, and the tea was served by candlelight and Colman was very handsome and I was very nervous.
For our big scene together, two stages had been opened up to make one huge desert set, and I rode out into it on a horse. I had a fantastic outfit—a velvet cape in a glorious shade of blue, and orchid veiling, studded in little tiny rhinestones, across my face.
That getup was so flattering it would have turned Louise Fazenda into Hedy Lamarr, and if I say so myself, I didn’t look like anybody’s old radiator cap.
Ronnie and I were to meet by an oasis, a pool of water beside some old ruins. It was a beautiful set.
On I came riding sidesaddle, and when I pulled up, the director, Frank Lloyd, told Ronnie to take me off the horse.
Ronnie helped me to dismount.
“No, no, no, no,” the director said. “Slide her down your body.” Colman was a shy man, and he didn’t know me from a hot rock, but I climbed back on the horse and went out and came in again, diddyump, diddyump, ump, ump, charging toward the oasis, hoping to hit the marks with the damn horse.
I dropped the reins, we had some more of that slide-her-down-your-body business, and finally I was off the animal, and Colman and I walked over to the pool in which our reflection was supposed to be caught, kissing.
He wouldn’t kiss me on the mouth. I kept trying to push my face around, but he just wouldn’t kiss me. Between takes I’d go in and swallow half a bottle of Listerine and spray myself with perfume. The scene went on and on. It started to get late; some of the crew were restless and beginning to giggle.
Finally the director said, “Maybe we’ll just have to put this off until tomorrow morning.”
Oh my God, I thought, I won’t sleep. By now I’m reeking of Arpege and mouthwash, and I’m desperate. I finally just grabbed Ronnie, clung to him, would not let him go, and kissed him until he was purple in the face and the director was yelling, “Cut! Cut! Cut!”
What I didn’t know was a) that a kiss full on the mouth doesn’t photograph as pleasingly as an off-center buss, and b) that they’d been doing a glass shot, a form of dissolve.
The camera wasn’t even on us most of the time, it was on the camels, the desert, the sun going down, the sun coming up again to indicate that we’ve spent the night together. Colman, of course, was aware of the camera (he knew cameras likes Wernher von Braun knows rockets), but all the time we were supposed to be standing apart making small talk—“How are you? How have you been?”—while they’re shooting the camels and the sunrise, he’s had this maniacal female clutching him to her fevered lips.
He was very nice about it.
Under Two Flags is an adventure/romance starring Ronald Colman and Claudette Colbert. Although Rosalind Russell had done a couple leading roles, she was relegated back to support staff in this one. Most of the attention is on Colman and Colbert, of course. As written above, Russell was in another of her English “Lady Mary” roles, which I am sure she was growing tired of. Needless to say, this was the last time she would play such a role. Yes, she did play a few more rich American girls, but her days of snootily putting her nose in the air while speaking with an English accent were over.
Although Under Two Flags is not the type of film that peaks my interest, for a film of its genre, it is a very good one. Another disclaimer I’d like to put out there is that I have never been a big fan of Claudette Colbert’s, so if any part of this review sounds disparaging concerning her, I do not mean to make it sound that way. I try my best to be as impartial a viewer as I can. Claudette Colbert plays a French girl living in Algeria named Cigarette. The name is laughable, but at the same time, it is somehow cute. My favorite part of her character is her feisty attitude, not to mention her French accent.
She speaks English with a French accent in this film, and at times, actually speaks French and even sings in French in one scene. This was not difficult for her because Claudette was French, born in Paris.
Ronald Colman is an English soldier, staying there in Cigarette’s town. His name is Sergeant Victor and they first meet when he visits Cigarette’s café one night with some buddies. Their first meeting is off to a rough start when she spots him in the café and offers him a bottle of wine like she does with any other first-time patron.
When he refuses the wine and demands she bring him cognac, she is very insulted. Eventually, that feisty spirit of hers gets out and she wants him gone.
Also in the French Foreign Legion is Major Doyle (played by Victor McLaglen), who is in love with Cigarette. He often tells her of his feelings and she usually pretends she feels the same, even though she feels no love for him at all. Another character on hand is Captain Menzies, played by the always delightful Nigel Bruce. He is in only a few scenes, but he is memorable as always, especially with his funny British accent. We first meet him when Cigarette is trying to get him to bid on a horse for more than it’s worth. This culminates in a racing scene between Victor and Cigarette. Sgt. Victor wins the race and angry as all get out, without paying him her debt, she takes off on her horse in another direction.
Victor goes after her and they eventually fall off their horses somewhere in the middle of the desert. That day turns into night as they sit alone in the desert, and Cigarette’s hatred for Victor has miraculously turned to passionate love. Although Victor isn’t exactly making goo-goo eyes back at her, she assumes he feels the same way.
The next day, many in the French Foreign Legion, including Major Doyle and Sgt. Victor, meet the lovely and gracious Lady Venetia Cunningham (Rosalind Russell). It is not common for the men to see a pretty young lady, so it is a treat for them.
Major Doyle starts introducing her to the men in his legion, and she is taken aback by a little wooden horse figurine, which was created by Victor. She meets him, their eyes lock, and they both seem quite taken with each other. Victor has been homesick for his native England for some time and when he sees Venetia, he is intrigued. On the other hand, Major Doyle does not make an impression on her. She is a very proper English woman and one can tell she finds Doyle quite obnoxious, although she is always very polite.
Later that night, Lady Venetia is dancing with Major Doyle at an event, he stiff and emotionless; she poised and bored. When she spies Victor outside the building looking at her, she can’t take her eyes off him as she turns and turns in dance. Victor devises a plan to steal Venetia away from the party. He offers to show her the “real Africa” and she can’t resist. She is fascinated by the adventure they go on, particularly in watching the snake charmer. But what she is utterly fascinated by is Victor. She is infatuated with him. Meanwhile, Cigarette is sitting in her little room, crying, because Victor stood her up for a dinner in order to go off with Venetia.
After Venetia goes home later that evening, she changes her mind and suddenly appears in the desert, wanting to spend the rest of the night with Victor. She comes riding up to him on a camel, wearing a breathtakingly gorgeous jeweled veil over her face. If there’s one good thing about being Rosalind Russell’s character in this film, it’s the fact that they always managed to make her look very good. And yes, when I watch this scene of the sunset in the desert, I think of the “kiss gone wrong” story.
Cigarette finds out about their relationship and is very upset, even confronting Venetia that she will “never love him the way I do.” She knows that Major Doyle has sent Victor out into the desert to fight to the death and there is no way he will come back alive. It has become Doyle’s mission to do this to Victor once he discovered Cigarette’s feelings for him. However, Cigarette becomes the true hero when she goes out to fight in order to save Victor’s life. She does save him from death, but in a poignant scene, she dies in Victor’s arms. The film closes with a funeral scene as everyone salutes Cigarette’s brave efforts, including Victor, who is standing sadly, hand in hand with Venetia.
TCM overview of Under Two Flags
A fun clip from the film: