Sunday, November 11, 2018

THE WORLD WAR ONE ON FILM BLOGATHON: Broken Lullaby (1932)


Maddy Loves Her Classic Films is hosting The World War One On Film Blogathon on November 10th and 11th to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the conflict. Click HERE to read the contributions.


The Holderlin household has been a sad place since before the end of the War to End all Wars. The young son of the house, Walter (Tom Douglas), was killed in battle. Dr. Holderlin (Lionel Barrymore), his wife (Louise Carter), and Walter's fiancee Elsa (Nancy Carroll) have been living quietly with their grief. The little joys of life have not returned.

Tom Douglas, Phillips Holmes

On the first anniversary of the Armistice, a young Frenchman, Paul Renard (Phillips Holmes) is still haunted by the eyes of the man he killed. He can find no solace when even a priest absolves him as "doing his duty."

While in the trenches, Paul learned much of the life of the man he killed by reading Walter Holderin's last letter to his family. The two young men shared a love of Paris and a love of music. Orchestra player Paul has been unable to return to his music since the war. Paul has memorized that last letter and the address, and he determined to go to Walter's family seeking forgiveness.

Zasu Pitts, Lionel Barrymore, Phillips Holmes, Louise Carter, Nancy Carroll

Paul is not welcomed by Dr. Holderlin. Paul is a Frenchman, and to the doctor, every Frenchman is the one who killed his son. Elsa recognizes Paul as the stranger she had seen placing flowers on Walter's grave and that gesture changes everything for the Holderlin family. The entire household assumes that Paul knew Walter in Paris. Paul is only too happy to go along with the deceit.

Time brings Paul and Elsa closer. As the maid Anna (Zasu Pitts) remarks "He doesn't know it, but he's in love with her." Dr. and Fraulein Holderlin appreciate the link they believe they have to Walter and welcome Paul as a friend. The relationship creates a scandal in town with much fodder for the gossips. Holderlin's cronies who sit around the tavern drinking beer and philosophizing have strong opinions against the French in general, and this stranger in particular. The spirit of animosity is stirred up by Herr Schultz (Lucien Littlefield), a rejected suitor for Elsa's attention.

Lionel Barrymore is heartrending in a scene at the tavern where he berates the old men who send young men off to be killed, whether they be French or German. He stands up beautifully for Paul. "He came here from France to put flowers on my son's grave. He is my guest. My wife likes him. Elsa likes him. And I love him."


Phillips Holmes, Nancy Carroll

Of course, Paul has fallen in love with Elsa and those feelings are returned. It is too much. He must leave them. Elsa discovers the reason for his visit in a touching scene involving Walter's last letter. Paul leaves the distraught young woman to bare his soul to the Holderlins.

It is Elsa's love for both the family and for Paul that keeps him from revealing the truth. She breaks into his confession by telling Fraulein Holderlin that Paul is staying; that he will never leave them. She tells Paul that he mustn't be afraid to make them happy by living the lie when the love is real.

Overjoyed, Dr. Holderlin gives Paul the violin that once belonged to Walter. Schumann's Traumerei is the first thing Paul has played in the years since the War because "There was no music left. Nothing in my ears but the sound of a dying man." Elsa, too, has not touched the family's piano since Walter's loss. It is a very moving final scene as Elsa accompanies Paul while the grieving parents cling to each other and the small happiness they have found.

Maurice Rostand's 1925 play The Man I Killed was adapted by Reginald Berkeley with the screenplay by Samson Raphaelson. Ernst Lubitsch directed the Paramount release in a movie season which included his features One Hour With You, a musical comedy starring Maurice Chevalier, and the sophisticated romantic triangle Trouble in Paradise. Mr. Lubitsch has filled the movie with many effective and emotion-filled silent scenes of struggle, pain, and understanding. Broken Lullaby is a masterpiece of atonement.

Broken Lullaby would be the final of four films teaming Nancy Carroll and Phillips Holmes, all romantic dramas, and they are quite touching here. The film's relatively brief runtime of 1 hour 15 minutes uses its time to observe these characters coping unassisted with trauma and grief. They are attempting to get on with life after the unimaginable horror that was World War I. In many ways, I believe generations have not completed that daunting task.












12 comments:

  1. This sounds like a deeply moving film, Paddy. I like that it seems to be reminding us that the so called enemy in war are just the same as the allies. War always ends the same way. There is grief and death on both sides. I can't wait to watch this. It sounds fantastic. Thanks for joining me for this blogathon.

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    1. It was my deep pleasure to share this film with you on this important day. Thanks so much for hosting the blogathon, Maddy.

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  2. A very good review of a film I must seek out. It seems strange that Lubitsch should have directed it. Certainly different from what he usually did.

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    1. I think the material must have meant a lot to Lubitsch. He certainly made a fine film.

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  3. Thank you for this review. I have wanted to see this film for some time. As always, you set me on the right path!

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    1. Thank you so much. I know that this film will live up to any expectations that have been built up over time.

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  4. Another great example of how the blog-athon is my perfect tool for fleshing out my "must see" list. Thanks for sharing this.

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    1. My pleasure, and thank you.

      I find that the choices in blogathons also widen the scope of my movie viewing. Sharing is a wonderful part of the classic film community.

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  5. A person will need to have the tissue handy, yes?

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  6. Paddy Lee, your last two, so true, lines are worth repeating: "They are attempting to get on with life after the unimaginable horror that was World War I. In many ways, I believe generations have not completed that daunting task."

    I've never seen BROKEN LULLABY. Another one to seek out. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you so much, Walter. The emotions stirred by the memory of that time is very real for me. I know this a film you will admire.

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