Rare Lubitsch in New York

I’m in New York City right now, visiting my son and daughter-in-law. This evening, we went to an art house cinema I didn’t know existed to see a Ernst Lubitsch film I had never heard of.

The theater is the Antohology Flm Archives in lower Manhatan. The movie was Broken Lullaby, also known as The Man I Killed–the name on the 35 print screened.

Like the Pacific Film Archive near home, the AFA is a non-profit that doesn’t sell food and frowns on your taking it into the theater. And like the PFA, it organizes its calendar around series. One series, Essential Cinema, is in theory the basic, common classics, although much of what they include here are pretty obscure. Other series in the current schedule includes New York’s Chinatown on Screen, a Richard Fleischer retrospective, and In the Flesh: Porn Noir (’70s porn with a noir twist).

Broken Lullaby was part of Auteurs Gone Wild–films by major directors that are not in the director’s usual style. Probably the best-known films in the group are Hitchcock’s Under Capricorn and Chaplin’s A Woman of Paris and A Countess from Hong Kong.

Broken Lullaby, made at Paramount in 1932, was not your usual sparklingly amoral Lubitsch comedy, but a serious anti-war melodrama set immediately after the end of World War 1. A young French veteran (Phillips Holmes), deeply guilty about killing a German soldier on the battlefield, seeks out the man’s family to apoligize. But once there, his courage fails him and he lies about his connection to their son. He also falls in love with his victim’s fiance.

Unfortunately, the very good-looking Holmes’ acting chops weren’t up to the part. He overplayed to the point of deep annoyance. Top-billed Lionel Barrymore, as the dead man’s father, plays his role beautifully, as does the rest of the cast.

Lubitsch and the four credited writers manage to avoid every cliche that they seemed to be headed towards. The ending is moving, emotionally complex, ambigious, unexpected, and perfect.

The film contains one great Lubitsch touch sequence–a montage that follow a rumor throughout the neighborhood.

i’m glad I caught it, and I hope someone in the Bay Area decides to screen it.

 

2 thoughts on “Rare Lubitsch in New York

  1. Anthology used to concentrate more on avant garde and experimental works when it opened in 1970. Its location has moved several times and in its current, permanent home the programming has expanded but is always adventurous, sort of like a combination of Pacific Film Archive and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
    It was the dream of Jonas Mekas and numerous other truly independent film artists. Mekas is still around.
    A brief history and more can be found here.
    http://anthologyfilmarchives.org/about/history

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