Ernst Lubitsch

Sog.: dal pièce Nur ein Traum (1909) di Lothar Schmidt. Scen.: Paul Bern. F: Charles Van Enger. Int.: Florence Vidor (Charlotte Braun), Monte Blue (dottor Franz Braun), Marie Prevost (Mizzi Stock), Creighton Hale (dottor Gustav Mueller), Adolphe Menjou (professore Josef Stock), Harry Myers (il detective), Dale Fuller (il paziente nevrotico), Esther Ralston (Miss Hofer). Prod.: Warner Brothers Pictures. DCP. Bn.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

When Lubitsch makes The Marriage Circle, he has been in the ‘celluloid Babylon’ for just over a year; he has directed Mary Pickford in Rosita, and the experience was exhausting; he is ready to pack. Then Warner Bros. comes along, offering him big money and relative freedom. Meanwhile, he has seen a film, A Woman of Paris, of which he will say, “no one’s intelligence is insulted in that picture”. A malicious touch to imply that the rest of the American production of 1923 has seemed insulting to him? The kinship between Chaplin’s sophisticated melodrama and Lubitsch’s first sex comedy is established by contemporary critics, who acclaim the ‘hidden talent’ of a director moving from ‘ponderous’ works to the art of ‘skating on thin ice’ of the marriage plots. Living in the age of film restorations provides the opportunity for new close comparisons, and today no heritage seems as striking as the one that binds The Marriage Circle with Erotikon, Stiller’s masterpiece that Lubitsch carried in his memory from Europe. But Chaplin counts, starting from the image in which Adolphe Menjou puts his foot into a sock and contemplates his big toe sticking out of a hole, an indirect homage to the Tramp. More substantial is the ironic borrowing from A Woman of Paris, an open drawer that displays a series of men’s collars; here, it’s a source of comic annoyance, there, the bitter realization that the beloved girl is now a kept woman. The first Lubitschian flirtatious chessboard, The Marriage Circle is a blissful confusion in which everything is constantly at risk of falling apart so that in the end it can stay the same, amid misunderstandings, escamotages and women’s arms sliding round the wrong (or maybe not) man’s neck. There’s a wife in a marriage wonderland, a friend who wants to seduce her husband, a tempted husband, a timid yet bumbling suitor. And then there’s an outsider, who is the great Menjou. In A Woman of Paris, he was the most disparaging, the most despicable of men about town; here he carries his cynicism like an halo. There’s a suspended moment where that halo seems to dissolve, and we see a man hesitating on the threshold of a secret thought, a past, perhaps a pain, someone who could rise and take the film in another direction. But then he chooses to step out “from the sentimental and sexual merry-go-round, maybe to save himself like the puppeteer in Die Puppe, or like us, the spectators” (Guido Fink).

Paola Cristalli

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Restored by MoMA with funding provided by Matthew and Natalie Bernstein