Combustible Celluloid
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With: Charles Boyer, Madeleine Ozeray, Florelle, Pierre Alcover, Robert Arnoux, Roland Toutain
Written by: Fritz Lang, Robert Liebmann, Bernard Zimmer, based on a play by Franz Molnár (a.k.a. Ferenc Molnár)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 118
Date: 04/27/1934

Liliom (1934)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Fritz in France

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Legend has it that Adolf Hitler approached Fritz Lang and asked him to be the official filmmaker of the Nazi Party. Lang told the Fuhrer that he'd think about it and promptly snuck out of the country, leaving behind his wife, screenwriter Thea von Harbou, and his bank account. He came to America and began a long career making excellent and always underrated paranoid crime thrillers.

It didn't exactly happen so neatly, but Lang never did much to dissuade this myth. Part of the story that often gets left out is that Lang originally fled to France. There he made one film, which flopped and caused his subsequent trip to the U.S.A.

The film, Liliom, has rarely been shown in America, and on those few occasions it has been seen in a truncated version. Now Kino presents the original 116-minute version on a new DVD. The famous story had been filmed earlier, in 1930, by Frank Borzage, and it was later turned into the popular musical Carousel.

Charles Boyer -- who also later came to America -- stars as the title character, a troublesome, womanizing carnival barker who coaxes people into riding the carousel. One night, he falls for a plain girl (Madeleine Ozeray) and runs off with her. Their life together is far from perfect. Liliom can't get a job, and he takes his frustrations out on his wife. When he learns that he is to be a father, he joins a friend in a robbery scheme that goes awry and results in Liliom's death.

In heaven, Liliom is given a second chance. Sixteen years later, he goes back to earth for one day to meet his daughter and contribute something good to her life. Lang takes the opportunity to present heaven as an ironic place, with comic parallels to earth, but also with breathtakingly lovely decoration, foreshadowing Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death.

Despite its peculiar and slightly disturbing final moments, Liliom is a lovely addition to the Lang filmography. It reveals a less harsh, less paranoid filmmaker, capable of laughing and loving. The moment in which the girl says goodbye to her dying husband is arguably the most emotionally moving scene I've seen in Lang's work.

Due to its age and rarity, the DVD transfer isn't the best; it's just a bit murky and rough around the edges, though Rudolph Mate's marvelous cinematography helps a bit in this regard. Since no one has really seen it and very few materials exist, the DVD comes with virtually no extras.

Kino has also released an early film from Douglas Sirk, another German filmmaker forced to flee to the United States. In La Habanera, a beautiful woman(Zarah Leander) moves to the Caribbean and marries a land baron. Tenyears later, the marriage has soured, a plague descends upon the land,and it's up to her former lover to rescue her. Sirk -- then known asDetlef Sierck -- made the film as a project for hire for the rising starLeander. Extras include an essay, clips from the original reviews, aSirk filmography and a photo gallery.

For more info or to order DVDs, call Kino at 1-800-562-3330 or visit their website.

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