Monday, December 27, 2010

Cluny Brown

“He’s creating a new and better world,” Andrew Carmel (Peter Lawford), the son of English Aristocrat Sir Henry Carmel (Reginald Owen), tells his father about Adam Belinski (Charles Boyer), the Czech professor who is symbolically seeking refuge on an English estate. It’s 1938, the eve of Hitler’s Anschluss, at the beginning of Ernst Lubitsch’s last film Cluny Brown (1946), currently in revival at Film Forum. “What for?” Sir Henry replies. The banter of English drawing room comedy is the palette from which Lubitsch is working, and the verbal play centers on class conflict in English society as a metaphor for the domination that threatens the world. In the English context alone it’s a seemingly beneficent condition epitomized by Cluny Brown (Jennifer Jones) herself, a plumber’s niece whose irrepressible personality defies the strictures of class. Domination in the extreme of course leads to the fascist attempt at hegemony that would lead to the Second World War. The constant verbal play of the film—“feeding squirrels to nuts,” doing “the wrong thing at the right time”—refer to resistance to the social order, and the humor is disconcerting, since the lightheartedness of the reversals will soon have implications that go far beyond the elegant parlors, stately gardens, horses and quaint English village life that constitute the movie’s settings. 

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