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December 07, 2021

Broken Lullaby


Ernst Lubitsch - 1932
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

Tucked in between two musicals starring Maurice Chevalier, Broken Lulluby is now more easily available to assess as part of Ernst Lubitsch's filmography. Some of the previous available writing emphasizes this as the lone dramatic film from a director known best for his comedies. How much as been deviated from the source play, The Man I Killed by Maurice Rostand, I do not know, but there are two scenes that anticipate the kind of humor that Lubitsch is remembered for.

The opening scene taking place during a parade celebrating the first anniversary of the end of World War I demonstrates that Lubitsch could take the gloves off and force his audience to face some uncomfortable truths. A shot of the parade is taken from ground level, framed from below the knees of a soldier with one leg missing. While we hear the the cheers from the celebrants on the street, Lubitsch does an overhead traveling shot of wounded soldiers in a hospital. The first four minutes are part of the reminder that war is not always over for those who have been affected by it, directly or indirectly.

French veteran Paul Renard feels overwhelming guilt over killing a German soldier in the trenches. At a church, a priest attempts to console Paul by letting him know he was doing his duty as a soldier. Instead of expiating his remorse, Paul is more frustrated, responding, "Is this the only answer I can get in the House of God?". Paul decides he can only resolve his feelings by going to the German village of the soldier, Walter, that he killed. Leaving flowers at Walter's grave, Paul follows up by visiting the home of Walter's parents. A series of misunderstandings follow which eventually result in Paul, the enemy Frenchman, taken in by Walter's family.

Broken Lullaby is less of an anomaly in Lubitsch's filmography when it is understood that the director's films are about misunderstandings and misidentifications. Consider The Shop Around the Corner where the bickering co-workers are unknown to each other as romantic pen pals. Here, Paul presents himself as a friend of Walter's, two violin students who knew each other in pre-war Paris. Also to be considered is that Maurice Rostand was the son of the author of Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand, also a story of false identities.

The best known cast member is Lionel Barrymore as Walter's father. Phillips Holmes as Paul, and Nancy Carroll as Paul's fiancee, Elsa, were two actors with brief film careers, both at their peak of popularity at the time the film was made. Holmes and Carroll both had tendencies to be overly dramatic which may have contributed to their falling out of favor with audiences in the mid-1930s. The screenplay was by two Lubitsch collaborators, Samson Raphaelson and Ernest Vajda, which also explains the continuity in the humorous scenes with other Lubitsch films.

Lubitsch historian Joseph McBride places Broken Lullaby within both the context of when the film was produced and also as part of Lubitsch's career. Also discussed is the director's collaborations with Samson Raphaelson. While there is some time spent also covering the difference between Broken Lullaby and Francois Ozon's remake, Frantz, there is nothing to be said about the source play. Even internet research regarding Maurice Rostand reveals very little about the playwright and nothing about his play. I would hope that the availability of this previously underseen film will inspire further research.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at December 7, 2021 06:48 AM