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Pandora’s Box (1929).

August 4, 2009

The Scoop:
Silent screen legend Louise Brooks had her signature performance as Lulu in this German masterpiece. She entices, she allures, she arouses, and today, 80 years later, she still breaks hearts, both male and female alike.

Brooks’ performance, still among the sexiest and most charming ever in screen history, anchors G.W. Pabst’s tearjerker about a reckless party girl who gets her comeuppance at the hands of Jack the Ripper.

Once you get beyond Louise Brooks, the rest of the film is fairly conventional, but very well executed. Based on a pair of popular German plays by Frank Wedekind, some of the subject matter went beyond the bounds of what Hollywood was doing at the time, although the basic “rise and fall of an evil, heartbreaking woman” plot — and the troubling view of women’s sexuality it presented — was a cliché even by that point. But there are also good performances by Fritz Kortner and Francis Lederer, as the father and son who get ruined by Lulu’s lust. And director Pabst does a superb job of holding it all together and bringing out the best in his leading lady. And as if that wasn’t enough, her haircut became iconic and started a fashion trend.

The strong-willed Brooks, who was beginning to make a name for herself in Hollywood, fled to Germany to make “Pandora’s Box” out of frustration over the lack of good roles available back home. The powers that be in Hollywood never forgave her for that, though, and this movie, which launched her to superstardom, also marked the effective end of her acting career.

This film, and Brooks in particular, contain all the elements of which greatness is made, and provide a marvelous swan song for the silent era.

Best Bit:
Lulu and Alice’s dance.

Side Note:
Countess Anna, played by Alice Roberts, is believed to be the first lesbian character depicted in film. Roberts didn’t realize her character was gay until filming began, and although she wanted to walk off the film, she was persuaded to stay and not break her contract.

Companion Viewing:
“It” (1927).

Lenin Imports.
Senses of Cinema.
Silent Volume.

Take a Look:
Watch it on the YouTube installment plan, beginning here:

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