Friday, March 4, 2011

Ernst Lubitsch's dud

I've commented before that I think even the best people in classic Hollywood had at least one dud movie in them. Ernst Lubitsch made some glittering comedies, but then came one that falls rather short: Cluny Brown, which is airing tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 PM ET on the Fox Movie Channel.

Jennifer Jones stars as Cluny Brown. She's the niece of a plumber, and has dreams of being a plumber herself. One day somebody calls needing help, but uncle is away, so she goes over to the house to fix the man's backed up pipes. It turns out that he's well to do with an estate in the country, and takes a liking to her. So he plies her with drinks while hosting his society party. When the uncle finds discovers where Cluny is, he's none too pleased. He figures she needs a real job for a woman, such as a maid, and gets her one at the estate of Peter Lawford.

Peter Lawford is looking after Charles Boyer. That's because Boyer is a Czechoslovak refugee, having been forced out when the Nazis took over. At least, that's what Lawford thinks, and even if it weren't true, Boyer would be happy to let Lawford continue to believe it. Cluny's presence, however, has an effect on everybody around her, even though she's not much as a maid. Cluny has two guys going after her; both Boyer, and the local pharmacist (played by Richard Haydn), who has the mother from hell (Una O'Connor). Lawford, meanwhile, has a woman he's got an eye on, and Cluny gets involved in that relationship. And so it goes for an hour and a half.

I mentioned at the beginning of the post that Ernst Lubitsch made some wonderful comedies, such as Ninotchka and To Be or Not To Be. For whatever reason, Cluny Brown doesn't really compare to those. I'm not quite certain why. A large part of it, though, probably has to do with the "drawing room" comedy nature of the movie. Back at the beginning of the sound era, there were quite a few movies made that were little more than filmed stage plays about higher-class people getting involved in a comedy of errors and romantic involvements behind everybody else's backs. In part because of the production values and in part because of the subject material, I've always found such movies to be a bit of a slog to get through; they wouldn't be the movies I'd recommend if I were trying to recommend an early talkie. Cluny Brown reminds me of those early "drawing room" comedies. It also doesn't help that the plot is all over the place, jumping from point A to point B much like Sylvia Scarlett, with no real logic in how the plot gets there. That's especially true of the ending. One of the few movies I can think of that has such an ending but works is The Palm Beach Story, which is also a bit of a "drawing room" comedy. But that works (in both regards) because the plot as a whole is coherent and well-presented. (Even the ending is hinted at.) Finally, I'm not a huge fan of either Jennifer Jones or Peter Lawford.

Still, Cluny Brown really tries, and Charles Boyer is reasonably well-used. Fans of Ernst Lubitsch will probably enjoy watching the movie. However, they'll have to watch it on the Fox Movie Channel. It's been released to DVD in Europe, but not in the US.

No comments: