The Case Of Lena Smith
T. It: Lena Smith – Romanzo D’amore / Il Calvario Di Lena Smith; Sog.: Samuel Ornitz; Scen.: Jules Furthman; F.: Harold Rosson; Scgf.: Hans Dreier; Mo.: Helen Lewis; Did.: Juli- An Johnson; Int.: Esther Ralston (Lena Smith), James Hall (Franz Hofrat), Gustav Von Seyffertitz (Herr Hofrat), Fred Kohler (Stefan), Betty Aho (Sorella Di Stefan), Lawrence Grant (Commissario), Emily Fitzroy (Frau Hofrat), Alex Woloshin (Il Custode), Ann Brody (Moglie Del Custode), Lola Lane, Kay Deslys (Poldi), Warner Klinger (Franz All’età Di Diciotto Anni), Wally Albright Jr. (Franz All’età Di Tre Anni); Prod.: Famous-Players-Lasky, Paramount; Pri. Pro.: 19 Gennaio 1929; 35mm. [Frammento]. L.: 106 M. D.: 5′ A 20 F/S. Bn
“Doubly sad (…), that The Case of Lena Smith should be a lost Sternberg feature. Mary Merson of the Cinémathèque Franpaise remembers it as the most beautiful of silent films, and in Europe, where it was released as Prater, its reputation is still high after decades of obscurity. Sternberg, despite his love of America, made an unashamed tribute to his Viennese boyhood, to the officers and servant girls he had watched as a child, to the fantasy of the Prater amusement park in Vienna near which he was born and in which he had his happiest childhood moments. The nostalgia was clear and unashamed, leading one critic to comment, ‘There are passages in this film that appear to be something on the order of childhood reminiscences, but they are not set forth with any suggestion of whimsicality’. The charge shows a remarkable misunderstanding of Sternberg’s reverentially autobiographical bent. Beginning and ending during the First World War, the film flashes back to Vienna in 1894, the year of Sternberg’s birth, where Lena Smith (Esther Ralston), a poor peasant girl from Hungary in love with a corrupt young cavalry officer (James Hall), marries him and has his child, then goes to work in her husband’s house as a servant, hiding the truth from his unsympathetic father (Gustav von Seyffertitz) while the son returns to his profligate ways. Lena’s fight to keep her son dominates the film. Robbed of him first when he is a baby, and later when they are separated by the war, she suffers imprisonment, contempt, shame in order to retain the child”.
John Baxter, The Cinema of Josef von Sternberg, Secker & Warburg, London, 1971
The Case of Lena Smith is one of the most noteworthy and important lost films in the history of cinema. A fragment of a scene set in Vienna’s Prater is the only piece remaining. With this film Josef von Sternberg, the director, paid homage to the sites of his youth and created a monument to Vienna at the end of the century.
Paolo Caneppele, Osterreichisches Filmmuseum