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Disappointing early talkie version with a few "celestial" moments
This is an oddity in that except for a 1919 silent film version, there were two early talkie versions of this perennial play made at just about the same time - a 1930 Hollywood version and a 1934 French version. All three were directed by top men in the field - Michael Curtiz, Frank Borzage and Fritz Lang. This Borzage version is typical of the poor early talkies - stiff, slowly paced, unevenly performed - but it does have a few magical moments, especially as a heavenly train appears beyond the window of the room where Liliom lies dying, seeming to come right out of the rollercoaster in view and enters the room itself, turning to allow the ethereal barker to come aboard. The train serves as purgatory and continually races through the heavens on a celestial roller coaster track - an ingenious bit of design. There is also the train from Hell which whips along the track, sending out sparks of flame.
Rose Hobart gives an excellent performances as Julie and although Charles Farrell is physically the perfect Liliom, handsome and swaggering, the moment he opens his mouth, we groan - his high pitched nasal whine of a voice is completely wrong for the character and destroys the illusion. Had this been a silent LILIOM he'd have been stellar all the way. Lee Tracy lends some humor as Liliom's no-good partner in crime
The sets are cheesy and except for the heavenly train sequences, seem to have been constructed from old pieces of cardboard - embarrassingly poor. The sound is quite poor on the print I saw which had subtitles in French. (The superior 1934 Lang version with Charles Boyer in the lead is in French with no English subtitles).
There are a number of changes in the script here - Liliom returns to earth after ten years (not sixteen) and he spends those ten years in Hell (to learn some discipline and responsibility). He is also the first Heavenly experiment in being allowed to return to earth for a day rather than that being the rule. Instead of stealing a star to give his daughter, he steals Gabriel's horn (a conch shell) - also new. The film is also hampered by its lack of music - only the death scene is underscored - not counting the ambient noise from the amusement park. The famous bench scene is cut to ribbons.
This is certainly worth seeking out for fans of the play and of its musical incarnation, CAROUSEL, but it is vastly inferior to the Boyer-Lang version and of course to the film of CAROUSEL itself, also released by Fox, which prepared the French version as well.
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