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CLUNY BROWN (director: Ernst Lubitsch; screenwriters: from the novel by Margery Sharp/Samuel Hoffenstein/Elizabeth Reinhardt/James Hilton; cinematographer: Joseph LaShelle; editor: Dorothy Spencer; music: Cyril Mockridge; cast: Charles Boyer (Adam Belinski), Jennifer Jones (Cluny Brown), Peter Lawford (Andrew Carmel), Helen Walker (Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Cream), Reginald Owen (Hilary Ames), Sara Allgood (Mrs. Maile), C. Aubrey Smith (Col. Duff-Graham), Richard Haydn (Wilson), Una O’Connor (Wilson’s mom), Reginald Owen (Sir Henry Carmel), Margaret Bannerman (Lady Alice Carmel), Ernest Cossart (Butler Syrette), Billy Bevan (Uncle Arn Porritt), Florence Bates (Dowager at Ames’ Party); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ernst Lubitsch; Fox Home Entertainment-PAL format; 1946)
“An outdated, slight, genial satire on British manners.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The last completed film by Ernst Lubitsch (“The Marriage Circle”/Ninotchka”/”Sumurun”), he died in the middle of filming That Lady in Ermine (1948), is an outdated, slight, genial satire on British manners. It’s set just prior to World War II in 1938. Writers Samuel Hoffenstein, Elizabeth Reinhardt and James Hilton adapt it from the novel by Margery Sharp. It features the legendary “Lubitsch touch,” which signifies the sophistication the film-maker gives to his romantic comedies.

One Sunday afternoon Hilary Ames (Reginald Owen) finds his kitchen sink plugged-up and worries he can’t get a plumber before his socialite cocktail party. The broke stranger Adam Belinski (Charles Boyer) appears asking for a fellow professor, Ames’ landlord, so he can borrow money and he remains when Cluny Brown (Jennifer Jones) arrives, announcing she’s the niece of a plumber who Ames called but the plumber was unable to respond. She explains she’s an orphan raised by Uncle Arn (Billy Bevan), and learned the plumbing craft by observing him. After she fixes the drain, an irate Uncle Arn arrives and berates her for not knowing her place. It turns out Belinski is a great writer, a Czech refugee living in London after writing an anti-Nazi book. Belinski sticks up for Cluny, stating ‘one’s place is wherever one is happy’and then further states happiness might just be ‘feeding squirrels to the nuts.’Attending the cocktail party is the blas√© socialite Betty Cream (Helen Walker) and her frustrated suitor wealthy socialiteAndrew Carmel (Peter Lawford), the spoiled son of a wealthy family, who recognizes Belinski as a great hero and lends him money.

Uncle Arnforces Cluny to work as a parlor-maid at the Carmel’s country manor. The Carmels (Margaret Bannerman & Reginald Owen) are coincidentally Andrew’s well-intentioned wealthy liberal parents. The imbecilic but good-natured Andrew thinks Belinski is in danger in London from the Nazis and invites the debonair writer to his parents’ estate as a permanent guest. There Belinski while interacting with the pretty and friendly maid, helps her flaunt social conventions and get out of a straight-jacket relationship with an uptight and arrogant know-it-all local chemist (Richard Haydn). Before the sophisticated writer leaves he makes known his romantic feelings to her while also helping Andrew snare the elusive Betty, as he wins her over when he for once forgets his good breeding manners and shows how jealous he gets when another man has her attention.

Though with certain charm throughout, the easy-going comedy about British upper-class mores was never more than amusing fluff and for the most part stretched reality to the breaking point. It was not possible to believe the Jones character would fall for a twit like the Haydn character, nor did I get any romantic chemistry between the Jones and Boyer characters.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”