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Friday Film Review: Cluny Brown

Cluny Brown – 1946
Genre: romantic comedy
Grade A-

Here’s another older movie I’d love to see on DVD – at least in the US. You European readers are lucky enough to have a region 2 version available. I’m so happy for you.

::smiling:: ::still smiling:: ::snarling actually, if you want the truth::

“Cluny Brown” is a little known gem from Ernst Lubitsch which features two outsiders who find each other in prewar England. Cluny Brown (Jennifer Jones) is the niece of a London plumber who answers the call of the plumbing pipes one Sunday afternoon when a society gent has a backed up sink. There she runs into Adam Belinksi (Charles Boyer) who is a Czech writer who has left Europe to find refuge in England after running afoul of the Nazis. After successfully fixing the sink, she and the men toast each other just a bit too much which is when her Uncle Arn arrives. Horrified that Cluny has forgotten her “place,” he makes arrangements to ship her out to the country as a parlor maid at the home of Sir Henry (Richard Owen) and Lady Carmel (Margaret Bannerman).

Meanwhile, Belinski meets up with their son Andrew (Peter Lawford) who is in awe of the “great man” and offers Belinski refuge from what Andrew imagines are Nazis hiding behind every bush in London. So Belinski and Cluny meet again once both are at Carmel Manor. They quickly recognize that they are both outcasts and outsiders and make a pact to be friends. But when Cluny thinks she finds romance with the stuffy village chemist (pharmacist), Belinski realizes that his feelings for her are much deeper. Can he sabotage the courting and win Cluny for himself before it’s too late?

“Cluny Brown” is like the froth on a cappuccino. It’s light and tickles my nose as I laugh my way through it. It’s witty, charming, funny yet dead serious in the way it takes shots at all levels of English society from the upper classes
(Sir Henry Carmel: So many of these foreigners have foreign names.),
the fawning middle class chemist
( Adam Belinski: You couldn’t have prescribed a better sedative than yourself!
Jonathan Wilson: Thank you Sir.
Adam Belinski: Not at all.)
and the reverse snobbery of the servants at Carmel Manor who shudder that a guest of the family should address the butler at dinner.

Jones is fantastic as the wide-eyed Cluny who believes the best of everyone and who is so open and friendly that you just can’t help falling in love with her. If anyone else tried to deliver the lines she was given, I would have been rolling my eyes but, from her, I swallow them whole. Boyer is delightful as the suave philosopher who always tells the truth yet who manages to charm everyone into doing exactly as he wants. His simple, yet to the chemist Jonathan Wilson infuriating, way of twitting his romantic rival had me laughing each time he did it.

The supporting characters, including Una O’Connor in a role during which she only cleared her throat continually through most of her scenes, are spot on and deliver their lines with impeccable timing and aplomb. And what lines. You have to listen closely to catch all the subtle jokes, the double entendres, the zings and zaps. And to follow Boyer’s French accent.

Watch how everyone, except maybe Boyer, play their roles with dead seriousness. Which ends up making the film that much funnier. Boyer always gives me the feeling that he knows exactly what he’s doing and how he’s manipulating everyone but he does it with such charm that I’m delighted.

But the truly great thing about the film is that it is never cruel to its characters. It allows you to watch and listen to them be stuffed shirts, air headed aristocrats, repressed housekeepers and rigid butlers…yet you still like them. When Boyer proposes to Cluny by promising to provide her with plumbing to fix, I just got that “Persian cat feeling” as Cluny calls it. That everything is perfect and just right.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

16 Comments

  1. Evangeline
    Aug 07, 2009 @ 05:37:15

    Mwuahaha! One classic we finally agree upon! When I watch movies like this, with the English upper classes stereotyped as mutton-heads, I always wonder why British historicals are so popular! But Jennifer Jones was adorable in this, Charles Boyer is to die for as always, and let’s face it, Ernst Lubitsch was a genius. You must review One Hour With You or Ninotchka after this.

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  2. Jayne
    Aug 07, 2009 @ 05:51:19

    One classic we finally agree upon!

    Yeah!

    When I watch movies like this, with the English upper classes stereotyped as mutton-heads, I always wonder why British historicals are so popular!

    I think the way they are portrayed in the movie is probably why it didn’t do as well when it was released – being so soon after the war yet before anyone was ready to look on pre-war attitudes honestly.

    But Jennifer Jones was adorable in this, Charles Boyer is to die for as always, and let's face it, Ernst Lubitsch was a genius.

    Jones is wonderful and it’s easy for me to see why Boyer’s character falls so quickly for her. And he is to die for.

    You must review One Hour With You or Ninotchka after this.

    I must, I must.

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  3. Jane O
    Aug 07, 2009 @ 06:38:38

    I never saw the movie, but the book was a delight.

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  4. Jayne
    Aug 07, 2009 @ 07:00:56

    Now that I can buy. Thanks for helping me to spend more money. [G]

    After checking at TCM, I see that they have shown the movie in the past. Maybe they’ll schedule it again sometime so people in the US can see it. My copy is a VHS tape I recorded off AMC years ago.

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  5. Terisa Wilcox
    Aug 07, 2009 @ 07:12:33

    I love older movies. I’m going to have to find this one and watch it and probably read the book too :D

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  6. Jayne
    Aug 07, 2009 @ 07:50:29

    Someone has loaded it at youtube. Go there and type in “clunybrown” (no spaces between the words). There are 10 parts to it.

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  7. Kalen Hughes
    Aug 07, 2009 @ 08:17:33

    I’ve never seen this! And now you tell me youtube is my ticket? I’m so in . . .

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  8. Jayne
    Aug 07, 2009 @ 08:48:43

    I’m so loving the fact that people are uploading some of these hard to find films at youtube.

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  9. willaful
    Aug 07, 2009 @ 11:49:25

    I saw this movie decades ago and LOATHED it, because it was so very untrue to the flavor of the book, which was for many years my all time favorite book. I don’t know if I’d be willing to give it another chance. I particularly disliked the characterization of the pharmacist, who was made entirely unappealing, negating the very real choice Cluny had to make between cozy security and freedom. And plumbing really had nothing to do with anything… what Cluny wanted was change and adventure, and the form it came in didn’t particularly matter. She was also not sweet and naive and believing the best in everyone, but a far more complex character. Grrr.

    Not to denigrate anyone who enjoyed the movie, which probably had charms I didn’t fully appreciate as a teenager, but it’s hard to see your favorite book distorted in that way.

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  10. Jayne
    Aug 07, 2009 @ 17:23:40

    Hmmm, now I really need to get this book and read it.

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  11. Evangeline
    Aug 08, 2009 @ 08:17:47

    @Jayne:

    I think the way they are portrayed in the movie is probably why it didn't do as well when it was released – being so soon after the war yet before anyone was ready to look on pre-war attitudes honestly.

    Yeah, I read that the British community in Hollywood was up in arms over the portrayal of and C. Aubrey Smith (the man with the dog Cluny meets on the train to the Carmel’s residence) apologized for accepting the role.

    @willaful: Heh, I’ve been meaning to read the book this movie is based upon (in fact, I tend to track down the books and plays old movies were adapted from [am anal about classic Hollywood that way]–I’m reading Alice Adams right now, which was made into a movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Fred MacMurray). I’m heading for my library’s online catalogue this instant!

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  12. mistry89
    Aug 11, 2009 @ 12:01:50

    I’ve never seen the film, but read the book when I was very young (back in the old days where a child off sick from school would be alone all day), I was probably around 9 or 10 and re-read it up until I was 14 or so as a “comfort read”. The battered paperback was lost in a house move, but I have very fond memories of it.
    Thank you for the reminder (I may need to get a copy of my very own,assuming it is currently in print/ebook)!

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  13. Jayne
    Aug 11, 2009 @ 17:39:40

    Thank you for the reminder (I may need to get a copy of my very own,assuming it is currently in print/ebook)!

    I’m not sure if it’s in print but it’s certainly available used – which is how I bought my copy. There were plenty of copies at half.com for 75 cents.

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  14. Darlene Marshall
    Aug 28, 2009 @ 11:16:36

    This is my favorite romantic comedy of all time. I even like it better than The Lady Eve, though it’s close. What makes this my favorite is Jennifer Jones as Cluny, plus the witty dialogue: “I would bang, bang, bang all night long…”

    I long to take every current director of so called romantic comedies, tie them to chairs and make them watch Cluny Brown and The Lady Eve and It Happened One Night and Bringing Up Baby and Born Yesterday while I’d be yelling at them “See? See? This is how it’s done! With wit and style and substance! Not with cheap fart jokes, you morons!”

    Alas, that opportunity has not come along. Until then, I treasure my TCM DVR recording of Cluny Brown and watch it with secret satisfaction.

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  15. Josie
    Dec 24, 2009 @ 06:53:08

    I just watched this movie tonight, and then happened upon your review while googling the origin of the name Cluny at my sister’s request. I only first saw the movie three weeks ago on You Tube, but have watched it practically every day since then–it’s just that engaging, and it still hasn’t gotten old. I love it. It sits quite comfortably in my top three movies of all time, and I don’t think it’ll be moving any time soon.

    Nice review, I especially liked the bit about the froth on a cappuccino–exactly right!

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  16. Jayne
    Dec 24, 2009 @ 07:00:08

    Another fan! I’ve loved it for years and, as you say, it hasn’t gotten old. Now if only someone would make a region 1 DVD…

    ReplyReply

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