Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lionel Barrymore, Nancy Carroll, Phillips Holmes, Louise Carter, Lucien Littlefield, ZaSu Pitts, Frank Sheridan, Emma Dunn
Written by: Samson Raphaelson, Ernest Vajda, based on a play by Maurice Rostand
Directed by: Ernst Lubitsch
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 76
Date: 01/19/1932

Broken Lullaby (1932)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Battle Sigh

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Released the same year as his masterpiece Trouble in Paradise (1932) this Ernst Lubitsch film is one of the rare dramas in his filmography, and yet it is rife with his unique Touch, proving that he could have been just as effective a dramatic director as a comic one. Based on a play called The Man I Killed by Maurice Rostand, the material is fairly tortured, but Lubitsch's handling of it makes it fly and sing. French musician Paul Renard (Phillips Holmes) is tormented by his killing of a German soldier during the war, and he decides to visit the man's family, using the man's final letter home, to confess his sin. Spotted placing flowers on the dead man's grave, he lies and says that he was a friend. The family (led by patriarch Lionel Barrymore) takes him in and treats him as a second son, despite a permeating hatred of the French in every aspect of German life. Paul even falls in love with the dead man's fiancee, Elsa (Nancy Carroll). Essentially, the movie is all about how the unburdening one's soul can create a burden on other souls, but it somehow works. An ironic early shot in a church shows many soldiers, their guns holstered and their swords sticking out from the pews and into the aisle, while listening to a sermon. Of course, the Germans continuously keeping up their hatred and bigotry is still a pertinent theme today. Kino Lorber's 2022 Blu-ray release offers a new 2K restoration, and includes a commentary track by professor Joseph McBride, author of a book on Lubitsch, and a batch of trailers.

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