November 4, 2019  (Web Review)

Cluny Brown

Criterion, 100 min., not rated, DVD: $29.99, Blu-ray: $39.99

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

Legendary filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch’s final film is a lightweight tale directed with the comic grace and deft wit that Hollywood called “the Lubitsch touch.” Set in 1939, as Britain’s aristocracy is blithely oblivious to the shadow of war creeping over the Channel, the 1946 romantic comedy Cluny Brown serves up a satire of manners, decorum, and class distinction that is cemented into place by the aristocracy and servants alike. Jennifer Jones is effervescent as Cluny, a working-class girl with a passion for plumbing, and Charles Boyer is continental sophisticate and immigrant escapee from Hitler’s march across Europe Adam Belinksi, a homeless Czech intellectual and poet in London. Jones plays Cluny as an uninhibited girl in a terribly inhibited world, while Boyer settles in as an eternal guest—an impoverished aristocrat at peace with the absurdity of his position. Belinski’s bemused, cheerfully self-effacing commentary, slipped into the small talk of parlor conversations with smiles and cheerful exhortations, is so deadpan and charming that his hosts never realize he is being tongue-in-cheek. Lubitsch’s generosity of character and elegant direction transforms every satirical aside and wacky turn, and he never stoops to wink at the audience or stop for a punchline in this amiable comedy costarring Peter Lawford, Reginald Owen, and Richard Haydn. Presented with a new 4K digital restoration, this handsome Criterion edition features extras including a conversation between film critics Molly Haskell and Farran Smith Nehme, a video essay by film scholar Kristin Thompson, an archival interview with film historian Bernard Eisenschitz, a 1950 radio adaptation of the film featuring Boyer and Dorothy McGuire, and a booklet with an essay by novelist Siri Hustvedt. Recommended. (S. Axmaker)