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Pandora’s Box

January 12, 2011

46. Die Büchse Der Pandora (Pandora’s Box)
Directed by G. W. Pabst
Germany, 1929
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Ally
First viewing

Synopsis:

Lulu (Louise Brooks) is the mistress of middle-aged newspaper tycoon Dr. Ludwig Schön (Fritz Kortner). She lives in an expensive apartment in which she entertains a variety of gentlemen.

Ludwig tells her that he intends to end their relationships so that he may marry his fiancée Charlotte but, when Charlotte catches the pair together, Ludwig agrees to do the honorable thing and marry Lulu instead. However, Lulu’s lively and promiscuous behaviour continues once they are married, which sends Ludwig into a jealous rage…

And that’s just the first half!

Essential Scene:

Allow me to set the scene…

Lulu has invited many of her former (and not-so-former) lovers to the wedding reception. She dances brazenly with Countess Geschwitz (Alice Roberts) — possibly the first overtly lesbian character in cinema — until Ludwig intervenes. Later he finds two of Lulu’s drunken “old friends” in her bedroom and chases them out with a pistol. When Ludwig returns to the bedroom, he finds his own son Alwa (Francis Lederer) resting his head in Lulu’s lap, having confessed his own desire for her.

This final indignity causes Ludwig to snap; you can tell because he does the Kubrick Stare (see above). He ejects Alwa from the room and then confronts Lulu, who is undressing gaily in front of the mirror.

He threatens her with the pistol. She backs away, intimidated. He persists.

Ludwig: [title card] Kill yourself, so you don’t make me a murderer as well!

He forces the gun into Lulu’s hand. They struggle and the gun eventually fires.

Ludwig is at the receiving end.

Thoughts:

The appeal of Pandora’s Box owes a lot to Louise Brooks. I had seen plenty of photographs of her — m’colleague likes to bombard me with them until I collapse in a gibbering heap — but in motion she possesses what I can only describe as eye magnets. The cinematography is beautifully smoky and sensuous too but, were she not so irresistible, the entire premise of the film would be laughable.

Well, it still is somewhat questionable. The film is divided into nine acts; the sheer amount of stuff that happens gave me plot fatigue, and many of the events are either ambiguous or contradictory. Ludwig is destroyed by jealousy because of Lulu’s promiscuity, despite knowing exactly what she’s like and even warning others about her! Why’d you marry her then, you fool?!

Also, the denouement in which Lulu is reduced to prostitution (and ~ SPOILER ALERT ~ murdered by her first client Jack the Ripper) seems tautological, considering her “kept woman” status at the start of the film rather insinuates prostitution.

However, the screen presence of Louise Brooks made me watch every frame gladly. No wonder she’s a true icon of cinema.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jessica Q. permalink
    January 13, 2011 12:53 am

    I completely agree with this review. I watched this movie about a year ago. Just judging by pictures and stories I’ve read about Louise Brooks, she’s a real hero of mine. But I’d never actually seen her in action until this film. I completely agree that you just can’t take your eyes off of her when she’s on screen – she really is electric. And unlike a lot of stars from old movies, with her I get the definite feeling Louise would have been a huge contemporary star if she were young/alive today.

    She just looks so natural on screen (not “theatrical” like most other silent film stars), I can’t help but think her acting style influenced acting in general, long after she’d retired.

    I like to look at modern actresses to figure out who could play her in a movie. Top of my list is Selma Blair, but not even she has the exact same quality.

    As for the actual movie, I started to lose interest in it about halfway through. The version I watched (extended cut maybe?) seemed ridiculously long, especially for a silent film. All I remember of it was how amazing Louise was.

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