Cluny Brown (1946), the final film completed by the great Ernst Lubitsch, may be a lightweight screenplay but the master of sophisticated comedy and continental wit gives it 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, it’s a satire of manners, decorum, and class distinction cemented into place by aristocracy and servant class alike. Jennifer Jones is effervescent as Cluny, a working class girl with a passion for plumbing, and Charles Boyer is Continental sophisticate Adam Belinksi, a homeless Czech intellectual and poet who escapes from Hitler’s march across Europe in London.
Jones is an uninhibited girl in a terribly inhibited world and Boyer plays the role as the eternal guest like an impoverished aristocrat at peace with the absurdity of his position in manner. His 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 his tongue is in his cheek.
Produced after the end of the World War II, there’s no urgency or bite to the satire of self-serious high society more concerned with decorum than substance and the disconnected world is flatly, almost lazily visualized. Yet Lubitsch’s generosity of character and elegant direction transforms every satirical aside and absurd turn into perfectly cut (if never quite cutting) jewels, and he never stoops to wink at the audience or stop for a punchline. It’s all about the lyric of conversation and the dance of decorum.
Peter Lawford, Helen Walker, Reginald Gardiner, Reginald Owen, and C. Aubrey Smith costar.
In black and white
Criterion Channel presents the film with supplements from the Criterion Collection special edition disc release (see details below).
Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Cluny Brown (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Cluny Brown (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
The Criterion Collection special edition Blu-ray and DVD releases feature a new 4K digital restoration of the film and include a conversation between film critics Molly Haskell and Farran Smith Nehme, a video essay by film scholar Kristin Thompson, an interview with film scholar Bernard Eisenschitz, and a 1950 radio adaptation of the film starring Boyer and Dorothy McGuire, plus an accompanying booklet.