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Saturday, May 24, 2008

LILIOM (1934)

Billy Wilder, Kurt Weill & Fritz Lang, three Berliners fleeing the Nazis, all sojourned in Paris before heading Stateside. Wilder’s Parisian work was negligible*, but the more established Weill & Lang each produced a strong item. But whereas Weill’s 7 DEADLY SINS is one of his best known concert pieces, Lang’s imaginative adaptation of Molnar’s great play is now hardly known. It’s probably the fault of CAROUSEL, the Rogers & Hammerstein version of LILIOM. But if their musical had once buried the original, now it brings it back as an ‘extra’ on the 2-DVD 50th anniversary edition of the underwhelming screen version of CAROUSEL/’56. The musical stays remarkably close to LILIOM in plot, structure & characterization, though Molnar is both rawer and more fanciful; a mix that fits Lang like a monocle. As Liliom, the carousel barker (R&H’s Billy Bigelow), Charles Boyer is just about perfect. Bluntly cruel & irresistible, he’s a precursor to the Stanley Kowalskis of the world and, like Brando, with the sensual features of a Caravaggio.** The rest of the cast is just as fine, but the film’s success comes largely from Lang’s handling of the tricky tone & material. Rudolphe Mate’s lensing looks stunning in the well preserved copy (far superior to KINO’s DVD release) and the few scenes that suffer from flat poverty row French studio conditions needn’t put anyone off. A near great film.

DOUBLE-BILL: *Au contraire, ‘Billie’ Wilder made a charming & imaginative directing debut (eight years before his first Hollywood directing gig) in MAUVAISE GRAINE/34. It wanders a bit, but is worth visiting.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: **IMDb lists each of these famous shorties at 5'9". Hmm, 5'7" is nearer the mark.

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