Lubitsch in Berlin

film 1 of 5

The Oyster Princess

Film Review by Dean Duncan Mar 26, 2015

That’s better. The line between joyful sauciness and corruption is blurred, dotted, semi-permeable. How does one distinguish? Is it the wind, blowing as it listeth? Or is it just the fragment of an underdone potato? Anyway, this one feels like it’s on the right side of the line, acknowledging the life force, detailing how it gets bound up in and derailed by culture and excess, concluding with happy heterosexual union and the world restored to balance. These settings are really amazing, and so is the way that Lubitsch arrays his forces all the way throughout. It’s that happy phenomenon one so often sees in beautifully designed films—dispense with plot and character trajectory, and you’d still have plenty to enjoy and appreciate.

There’s a Kuleshov-ian craziness to these characters, a comic hyperbole that you don’t tend to see in Anglo films. It comes off very well. The hyperbole works because it’s balanced by a relaxed pace, a leisurely manner of gag construction and execution. Given that the film is pretty funny, and really friendly, a viewer might just miss its satirical elements. It’s razor sharp, though; this American mogul is so much more aristocratic and hierarchical than Europe could ever be. The point is made pretty powerfully, but it’s also made with good humour. You could see why Lubitsch was so willing to come over to the States, and why he flourished so.

The dance sequence! Make that the entire wedding celebration! Its light as air, which is to say that it’s full of that celebrated Lubitsch touch. Between the lines though? Practically Stroheimian! Really special stuff.