tongue-tied lightning

Cluny Brown (Lubitsch, 1946)
December 8, 2008, 9:35 PM
Filed under: film


As someone who considers Lubitsch one of his favorite directors, I find it endlessly depressing how many of his films are unavailable on DVD.  Cluny Brown is one I’ve been wanting to see for a long time, and it was worth the wait.  If the other unavailable films are half as delightful, the fact that they aren’t available is twice as depressing.

The film introduces it’s themes in the opening scene. It celebrates those who refuse to conform and uses the British class system as a source for comedy. In it a man is hosting a dinner party that is about to start, and his sink is clogged. He calls various plumbers but on a sunday afternoon none care to be bothered. A plumber’s niece answers one of his calls and decides to take matters into her own hands. The idea that a woman would do the plumbing is unfathomable to the host, however, a guest who came looking for a previous tenant encourages him to let her give it a shot. She fixes it. Shortly thereafter her uncle comes and scolds her for not knowing her place.

The scene is brilliantly constructed.  The suspense created by the impending guests arrival and the humor in the mens reaction to the female plumber grabs the audiences attention right away. It also serves as an introduction to the two main characters, Cluny Brown, the niece, played by Jennifer Jones, and Adam Belinsky, the man who came looking for a previous tenant, played by Charles Boyer. We soon find out Belinsky is a Czechoslovakian professor who has been a critic of the Nazis and is seeking asylum in Britain. Cluny’s uncle, displeased with her recent foray into plumbing, forces her to enter work he deems suitable for a woman.  The rest of the film takes place at an estate in the country, where Cluny is a maid and Belinsky a guest.

Their difference in class creates difficulties as they try to converse, even though they’re clearly fond of each other. This difficulty and the other people’s reactions to it are exploited for much of the comedy in the film. The rest comes from Mr. Wilson, the egotistical town pharmacist, who Cluny convinces herself she is in love with.

This is the central conflict of the film. Belinsky, it’s clear, sees much of himself in Cluny and is falling in love with her. Cluny, on the other hand, deludes herself into believing her unhappiness is because of her not fitting in, and thinks marrying the most boring and secure man in town will fix this. Belinsky attempts to make her realize this will only cause more unhappiness, and she must embrace her differences and be herself.

This was Ernst Lubitsch’s last completed film. He began another that was finished posthumously by Otto Preminger. I’ve yet to see it, but with Cluny Brown he went out on top. With the exception of To Be or Not to Be, it is the finest Lubitsch film I’ve seen.


6 Comments so far
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Great work, and I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of theme and ideas. It’s really an absolutely perfect film, and in my esteem Lubitsch’s very best. It’s a bit more loose, and a bit more free than his other stuff, but to great effect. Just thinking of it sends shivers down my spine, an absolute joy!

Comment by mrsemmapeel

Did I mention I love that screencap? Because I do

Comment by mrsemmapeel

she feels like a persian cat! and thanks for the compliments. by the way, i find it funny that the first linked ‘related post’ is a review by you of the same film.

Comment by justin

I noticed that 😀 She does feel like a persian cat, what a lovely scene. I think my favourite in the film when she describes her “sex” dream, and cuts it off right when it gets good. The expression on Boyer’s face is PRICELESS 😀

Comment by mrsemmapeel

that would be your favorite scene 😛 but yeah, it was one of my favorites as well. possibly my favorite, i’d need to watch it another time or two to nail down a favorite scene.

Comment by justin

This is the only Lubitsch film I’ve seen but I absolutely adore it and would consider it one of my all time favourite films.

Comment by spengo

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