Posts Tagged ‘femme fatale’

(German: Die Büchse der Pandora)

The title is a reference to Pandora of Greek mythology, who upon opening a box given to her by the gods released all evils into the world, leaving only hope behind. The lead role is played by Lousie Brooks as Lulu. She is a young and impulsive vaudeville performer whose raw sexuality and uninhibited nature bring about the downfall of almost everyone she meets. Indeed her asset is her body which, to use a metaphor, was like the box. She only needed to open it, and as we see in this silent film, what havoc it could wreak on men as well as women of certain attitude. Incidentally in Countess Anna we have the cinema’s first lesbian character.
Pandora’s Box is a German silent melodrama based loosely on Frank Wedekind’s plays Erdgeist (Earth Spirit, 1895) and Die Büchse der Pandora (1904). Wedekind’s plays in his time were controversial to say the least. Satire was a weapon more like a red rag to be shaken at the middle-class morality and the solid citizenry in Germany were bedeviled by the impossible and more perverse than natural conduct in Lulu. Widekind was not exceptional in this. From the turn of  the century there were two opposing forces at work in Imperial Germany and both were curiously born out of self same causes. Perversity, vampirism and similar lurid subjects that were taboo till then began to appear as a reaction to a very moribund German national life. Lulu was a creature, an intellectual shock therapy on one hand from Widekind is an example. The other form of shock was prescribed by Deeds and came from wandervögels (birds of passage). The latter were  from well-to-do middle class families and this movement was hellbent to attack school, home and church. The latter group was to transform into Freikorps at the end of WWI.The latter played a part in helping Hitler to power while it marked the exodus of intellectuals to safer havens.

This film is directed by Austrian filmaker Georg Wilhelm Pabst, the film stars Louise Brooks as Lulu, Fritz Kortner as Dr. Schön, Francis Lederer as Alwa Schön and Alice Roberts as Countess Geschwitz.
The plot revolves around many loves of Lulu, her rise and fall. She marries a respectable newspaper publisher, but soon drives him into insanity, climaxing in an incident in which she accidentally shoots him to death. Found guilty of manslaughter, she escapes from justice with the help of her former pimp (whom she considers her father) and the son of her dead husband, who is also in love with her. After spending several months hiding in an illegal gambling den in France, where Lulu is nearly sold into slavery, Lulu and her friends end up living in squalor in a London garret. On Christmas Eve, driven into prostitution by poverty, Lulu meets her doom at the hands of Jack the Ripper.
Pandora’s Box was already adapted to the screen by Arzén von Cserépy in 1921 in Germany under the same title with Asta Nielsen in the roll as Lulu. There were musical, plays and other cinema features of the film at the time and the story of Pandora’s Box was commonplace in culture. This allowed Pabst to make liberties with the story of the film.(wikipedia)
Directed by     G. W. Pabst
Produced by     Seymour Nebenzal
Written by     G. W. Pabst
Ladislaus Vajda
Cinematography     Günther Krampf
Distributed by     Süd-Film
Release date(s)     Germany:
30 January, 1929
Running time     100-152 mins. (US)
133 mins. (dir. cut)
Country     Germany
Language     silent film
German intertitle
* Fritz Körtner as Dr. Ludwig Schön
* Francis Lederer as Alwa Schön: Dr. Ludwig Schön son.
* Carl Goetz as Schigolch: there is no real definiton of his relation to Lulu but it is suggested in the film that he is or has acted as a sort of pimp for Lulu.
* Krafft-Raschig as Rodrigo Quast
* Alice Roberts as Countess Anna Geschwitz: Geschwitz is defined by her masculine look with her tuxedo suit that she wears.
* Daisy D’Ora as Dr. Schön’s Fiance
* Gustav Diessl as Jack the Ripper
* Michael von Newlinsky as Marquis Casti-Piani
* Sigfried Arno as The Stage Manager
Similar Movies
Diary of a Lost Girl  (1929, G.W. Pabst)
The Blue Angel  (1930, Josef von Sternberg)
Queen Kelly  (1929, Erich Von Stroheim)
The Wild Heart  (1950, Rouben Mamoulian, Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger)
A Breath of Scandal  (1960, Michael Curtiz)
Looking for Mr. Goodbar  (1977, Richard Brooks)
Klondike Annie  (1936, Raoul Walsh)
Afgrunden  (1910, Peter Urban Gad)
Movies with the Same Personnel
Diary of a Lost Girl  (1929, G.W. Pabst)
Kameradschaft  (1931, G.W. Pabst)
Westfront 1918  (1930, G.W. Pabst)
The Threepenny Opera  (1931, G.W. Pabst)
Don Quixote  (1933, G.W. Pabst)
Der Prozess  (1948, G.W. Pabst)
The Strange Death of Adolf Hitler  (1943, James Hogan)
Die Stadt ist voller Geheimnisse  (1955, Fritz Kortner)

* Louise Brooks as Lulu: On seeing Louise Brooks as a Circus Performer in the 1928 Howard Hawks’ film A Girl in Every Port. Director G.W. Pabst tried to get Brooks on loan from Paramount Pictures. Pabst’s offer wasn’t even given to Brooks by the studio until she left Paramount over a Salary dispute. On not receiving Brooks for the role, Pabst’s second choice was Marlene Dietrich.
* Georg Wilhelm Pabst nearly signed Marlene Dietrich to star, although he greatly preferred Louise Brooks. According to Pabst, Dietrich was in his office waiting to sign the contract when a cable came from Paramount saying that Brooks was willing to play the role.
* Georg Wilhelm Pabst initially incurred a lot of wrath when he cast American Louise Brooks in the role of Lulu, a part which was considered to be quintessentially German. Ultimately Brooks’ performance silenced her critics.
* For the scene in which Lulu picks up and seduces Jack, Georg Wilhelm Pabst selected one of Louise Brooks’s own suits – her favorite – for Lulu’s costume and soiled, scuffed and rent it. Brooks claimed that, without spoken direction, Pabst thus established the desired effect of making her feel worn, cheap, and desperate, as the character of Lulu was intended to be portrayed.

* In her biography, Louise Brooks says she was physically attracted to Gustav Diessl, who played Jack the Ripper, and that made it easy for her to play her scenes with him.

* According to Louise Brooks’ memoir, “Lulu in Hollywood”, Alice Roberts was not aware her character was a lesbian until filming began, and she was initially opposed to playing the role as being attracted to Lulu. Georg Wilhelm Pabst, Brooks writes, convinced Roberts to pretend she was making her love gestures to Pabst, who was standing just off-camera.

* Louise Brooks’ highly influential “bob” hairdo is referred to as a Lulu to this day.

•    Fritz Kortner reportedly did not like or respect Louise Brooks, whom he didn’t consider a trained actress.
Memorable quotes:
Lulu: You’ll have to kill me to get rid of me.
Dr. Ludwig Schön: [to Alwa] Just one thing, my boy, beware of that woman.
Schigolch: You should only play when you’re sure to win.
Lulu: [referring to the Egyptian] He’s acting like he wants to buy me.
Marquis Casti-Piani: I need money badly and you have none to give me… The Egyptian will give me 50 more pounds than the German police… You’re in luck.
Alwa Schön: It’s strange how you can get booze on credit but not bread.
Lulu: MONEY! All they want is money!

In France, the film was edited making Alwa was Schon’s secretary and the countess became Lulu’s childhood friend. Lulu is found innocent in the film at her trial and there is no Jack the Ripper character as the film ended with Lulu joining the Salvation Army.

In Retro

The film was re-discovered in the 1950s by critics to great critical acclaim. Modern critics now praise the film as one of the classics of Weimar Germany’s cinema along with The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari, Metropolis, and The Blue Angel.

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La Bête Humaine Is directed by Jean Renoir after his La Grande Illusion. The film has none of the grandeur of his anti-war movie. Jean Gabin stars in both films, The film is  based on Zola’s novel in the Rougon-Macquart cycle where Emile Zola adopted a naturalist style in order to show the hereditary influence of alcoholism and violence over five generations of a single family. (The Human Beast was the last in the series. By the way Renoir had adapted Nana (1926) and this film was his second of Zola’s novels.) Renoir’s film opens with a quotation highlighting this theme:

At times this hereditary flaw weighed heavily upon him. He felt he was paying the price for the generations of his forefathers whose drinking had poisoned his blood. His head felt as if it would explode in the throes of his suffering. He was compelled to acts beyond the control of his will, acts whose causes lay hidden deep within him.

There follows a signed photograph of Zola, as if Renoir was intent on tacking his film on his name but in developing the story he made the film into a symbiotic relationship of man with his machine into which Séverine, the woman and le crime passionel are more incidentals than crucial pieces in explaining his falling apart. Instead of Zola’s painstakingly constructed theme of the “hereditary flaw” Renoir builds up a straightforward crime melodrama: engine driver Jacques Lantier (Jean Gabin) along with his partner Pecqueux (Carette) are waiting in La Havre for the repair of their  train. Lantier witnesses the murder by stationmaster Roubard (Fernand Ledoux) of the wealthy Grandmorin (Jacques Berlioz). With that casual incident he is drawn into a domestic tragedy: Séverine (Simone Simon) the young wife of the murderer knows Lantier is an accessory and she is out to buy his silence in the only way she knows how. Of course her husband also thinks it is a good idea. Their friendship develops into a passionate affair whch can only end in tragedy.

This was Renoir’s second-to-last film before the outbreak of war. Perhaps the romantic fatalism of this dark tale must owe something to his previous film Le Crime de M. Lange in which he had teamed up with Jacques Prévert who went on to script Le Quai des Brumes (Port of Shadows) which was released in the same year as this film.
Lantier is flawed as we shall see as the film builds up but among his co- workers, and standing before the engine he is in his natural element. It is established by a lengthy opening sequence, where he along with Pecqueux are attending to their tasks. The two actors actually learned how to operate a train, which Renoir then filmed for this sequence. There’s an incredible dynamism here with the roar and din of the train as it rushes along the track, Lantier and Pecqueux working in perfect, almost wordless unison. There is a documentary quality to the way the sequence is arranged with the repeated point-of-view shots of the track ahead, the landscape and buildings flashing by, and the story begins to take on with their final entry into the Le Havre station.

Having positioned Lantier as a working man Renoir also takes pains to show him interact with his colleagues in everyday and casual details such as Lantier greeting other drivers, reporting the malfunctioning axle, and these serve a specific function of setting him in a social context which Zola would have recognized as naturalism expressed in cinematic idiom.
Renoir’s political leanings are evident in the way he develops his working class hero and pointing to the undercurrents of class distinctions that existed in the society.
Running Time:    96 mins


* Jean Gabin – Jacques Lantier
* Julien Carette – Pecqueux
* Jean Renoir – Cabuche, the Poacher
* Gerard Landry – Dauvergne’s Son
* Colette Regis – Victoire
* Jacques Brunius – Farm Worker
* Georges Spanelly – Grand-Morin’s Secretary
* Georges Péclet – Railway Worker
* Tony Corteggiani – Section’s Chief
* Emile Genevois – Farm Worker

* Simone Simon – Séverine
* Fernand Ledoux – Robaud, Séverine’s Husband
* Blanchette Brunoy – Flore
* Jenny Hélia – Philomene
* Jacques Berlioz – Grand-Morin
* Léon Larive – Grand-Morin’s servant
* Marcel Pérès – Lampmaker
* Charlotte Clasis – Aunt Phasie
* Guy Decomble – Garde-barriere
* Claire Gérard – Traveler
Curt Courant – Cinematographer; Suzanne de Troeye – Editor; Raymond Hakim – Producer; Robert Hakim – Producer; Joseph Kosma – Composer (Music Score); Eugène Lourié – Set Designer; Jean Renoir – Director; Jean Renoir – Screenwriter; Marguerite Renoir – Editor; Emile Zola – Book Author
Similar Movies
Double Indemnity; In a Lonely Place; La Chienne; Le Jour Se Lève; Ossessione; Toni; Voici le Temps des Assassins; Le Dernier Tournant
Critical reception

Frank S. Nugent, film critic for The New York Times, gave the film a positive review even though he felt uncomfortable watching the film. He wrote, “It is hardly a pretty picture, dealing as it does with a man whose tainted blood subjects him to fits of homicidal mania, with a woman of warped childhood who shares her husband’s guilty secret of murder…It is simply a story; a macabre, grim and oddly-fascinating story. Sitting here, a safe distance from it, we are not at all sure we entirely approve of it or of its telling. Its editing could have been smoother—which is another way of saying that Renoir jerks his camera, jumps a bit too quickly from scene to scene, doesn’t always make clear why his people are behaving as they do. But sitting here is not quite the same as sitting in the theatre watching it. There we were conscious only of constant interest and absorption tinged with horror and an uncomfortable sense of dread. And deep down, of course, ungrudged admiration for Renoir’s ability to seduce us into such a mood, for the performances which preserved it.”


In 1954 director Fritz Lang remade the picture as Human Desire, a film noir featuring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Broderick Crawford, among others. Fritz Lang had earlier remade another of Renoir’s film La Chienne (1931), a savage and dark drama about a man’s self-destruction, as Scarlet Street.


* Venice Film Festival: Mussolini Cup, Best Film, Jean Renoir; 1939.
(ack:brightlights,allmovie, wikipedia)

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