A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Cluny Brown (Ernst Lubitsch, 1946)

Charles Boyer, Jennifer Jones, and Richard Haydn in Cluny Brown
Adam Belinski: Charles Boyer
Cluny Brown: Jennifer Jones
Andrew Carmel: Peter Lawford
Betty Cream: Helen Walker
Hilary Ames: Reginald Gardiner
Sir Henry Carmel: Reginald Owen
Col. Charles Duff Graham: C. Aubrey Smith
Jonathan Wilson: Richard Haydn
Lady Alice Carmel: Margaret Bannerman
Mrs. Maile: Sara Allgood
Syrette: Ernest Cossart
Mrs. Wilson: Una O'Connor
Dowager at Ames's Party: Florence Bates
Uncle Arn: Billy Bevan

Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Screenplay: Samuel Hoffenstein, Elizabeth Reinhardt
Based on a novel by Margery Sharp
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
Art direction: J. Russell Spencer, Lyle R. Wheeler
Film editing: Dorothy Spencer
Music: Cyril J. Mockridge

Ernst Lubitsch's celebrated "touch" was mostly a good-humored, occasionally naughty irony and a flair for pulling off sly sight gags such as the one that ends Cluny Brown: Cluny and Belinski are viewing his book in a shop window when she's suddenly taken faint, followed by a cut to the shop widow in which a sequel to Belinski's book is now displayed. The gag works only if you've caught the set-up, a joke I needn't spoil, but it's a reminder that Lubitsch, like so many of the great directors of the '30s and '40s, learned his trade in silent films. Which makes it all the more amazing that he was so deft with dialogue. Cluny Brown is also a great showcase for its stars, Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones, who were never quite so charming in any of their other films. Especially Jones, who was manipulated by David O. Selznick into so many roles that she had no business playing, such as the supposedly sultry but really campy part of Pearl Chavez in Duel in the Sun, a film that appeared the same year as Cluny Brown, but seems to be taking place in another galaxy. That Jones could move from Pearl to Cluny with such grace suggests that she was a finer actress than Selznick ever let her be. Cluny also showcases some wonderful character actors, especially the always welcome Richard Haydn as Cluny's unsuitably prissy would-be fiancé and Una O'Connor as his mother, whose "dialogue" consists of clearing her throat. But mostly the Lubitsch finesse is what saves Cluny Brown from turning into the twee horror it might have been with its gallery of talkative eccentrics and off-beat situations. Instead, it's a refreshingly delicate comedy shadowed only by the fact that it was to be its director's last completed film, a reminder of the exchange that took place at Lubitsch's funeral when Billy Wilder sighed, "No more Lubitsch," and William Wyler replied, "Worst than that. No more Lubitsch pictures."

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