Friday Film Review: Cluny Brown
Cluny Brown – 1946
Genre: romantic comedy
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.