ERNST LUBITSCH and CLUNY BROWN
Ernst Lubitsch (January 28, 1892 – November 30, 1947), was a German-born Jewish film director. His urbane comedies of manners gave him the reputation of being Hollywood's most elegant and sophisticated director; as his prestige grew, his films were promoted as having "the Lubitsch touch". Also of great importance was the fact that in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s Lubitsch retained control of all of his films - a very rare thing in Hollywood.
Both American and European moviegoers were familiar with the legendary “Lubitsch touch” by the time Ernst Lubitsch directed Cluny Brown (1947), a comedy of manners often considered his final feature (he never finished That Lady in Ermine (1948) which was completed by Otto Preminger). But Lubitsch’s satirical targets in Cluny Brown are pre-war British aristocrats who, safely ensconced in their comfortable country homes, know little about the conflict brewing in Europe, outside of the fact that it was started by “an Austrian.” It’s not surprising, then, that Americans embraced the picture more enthusiastically than the Brits ever did, although it is surprising just how much it upset some British critics. Based on a popular 1944 novel by Margery Sharp, Cluny Brown’s narrative feels more like an extended comic situation than a conventional plot. Jennifer Jones plays the title character, a young woman who, as the film opens, fixes a clogged sink for a well-to-do London family while her plumber uncle is away. Shortly thereafter, Cluny is discovered having drinks with Adam Belinski (Charles Boyer), a Czech writer who’s visiting the household. Later, in an attempt to climb the social ladder, Cluny becomes a maid at a country home...and once again meets up with Belinski. She then has to decide whether to follow her heart and enter into a romance with the writer, or pair up with the stuffy owner of the estate (Richard Haydn.) When Lubitsch handed the script adaptation to Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck, there was very little need for revisions. Although Zanuck was known for the copious notes he took upon reading a screenplay, he really only suggested a few minor line re-writes. This undoubtedly pleased Lubitsch, who once again had been having heart problems during pre-production, and didn’t need extra stress. He was finally cleared by his doctors to begin filming Cluny Brown in November, 1945, and the shoot began that December. Jones, who appeared in the pious The Song of Bernadette (1943) for Fox, must have felt right at home during filming. The set for Cluny Brown was the same one used on Bernadette, albeit re-modeled by Lyle Wheeler and J. Russell Spencer to look English instead of French. Jones, who could be emotionally high-strung at times, still managed to cause some commotion during the shoot. She preferred to communicate with Zanuck solely through production manager Ray Klune. Lubitsch was occasionally exasperated by this, but still seemed to take it all in stride. Cluny Brown was not a big commercial hit but at least it recouped its investment. Most American critics were kind to it, reveling in what would prove to be their final chance to experience Lubitsch’s sensibilities as a filmmaker; the director would eventually die from a string of heart attacks without ever making another film. Across the pond, however, the reviews were ugly. The Sunday Express suggested Cluny Brown was like “kippers fried in cream, an anchovy laid across a strawberry ice...complete and awful wrong-headedness.” Given the relative lightness of the picture, that type of review seems above and beyond the call of criticism. But the British didn’t like to be mocked, what with having recently survived one of the worst wars in their history. From TCM.com