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I am really happy to have this chance to comment about this great movie.I have two reasons for that. One of them is that on doing so I also make a homage to my dear father who since my early day days constantly mentioned Broken Lullaby as being the "best movie he ever saw" and made me listen to his telling of every of its passages, every detail of it. In 1982 I had the opportunity to watch this movie on Tv in Brazil and was finally able to enjoy it with great emotion besides the fact that I could then agree with my father on how great the movie was.The other reason is that this comment may suggest movie industry to show Broken Lullaby today and sell VHS/DVD copies of same so that others can have the priviledge of enjoyng this great war drama. Lionel Barrymore's performance in this movie is somethong to be taken as magnificent. In all aspects the movie should be considered among the greatest ones ever made and be included in a list of the best movie classics for its human content and inspiring message of love and dignity.
In the sense that this film's post-WW I pacifist yearnings are naive and
unsupported by philosophic or practical consideration, this film is dated,
there's no denying that. In that sense it's tied to its time in a way that
many other films of the early thirties are not. But still, it's a
film! A simple story: A Frenchman is overcome with guilt for killing a
single German in battle in WW I. The church gives him no solace, so he
decides to seek the forgiveness of the German soldier's family. The family
jumps to the conclusion that he was a friend of their son, and he hasn't
courage to tell them the truth.
The performances are straightforward, and Lionel Barrymore is superb, as he nearly always was in his early years. When appropriate, Lubitsch uses all the showy techniques of his personal style. The opening scenes are a bravura series of brilliant visual bits, particularly the tracking shot down the church aisle at an armistice service, showing a belted sword extended from each pew. At other points, too, his special touch is evident, especially with the use of sound. When the German girl strolls with the Frenchman, the scandalous news travels from shop to shop to shop, and their walk is punctuated by the sound of the tingling bells on the shop doors. And the ticking of the clock, which the old man faithfully winds in his dead son's room, is adroitly used in the final scenes. One of the most telling uses of sound is when Barrymore hears the sound of marching feet. He looks toward an archway and the militaristic sound grows louder, but the sequence ends before the soldiers appear in the arch. It's a chilling moment that reminds the audience that Hitler is just off-screen, that perhaps the film's ideas are already out-of-date.
But Lubitsch also shows his greatness by the ABSENCE of obvious Lubitsch technique throughout much of the film. He's aware that his characters are the essence of the film, and for long stretches he lets his players act their story in plain, unbroken two-shots, without cinematic embellishment. It's a film by a master, and it's shameful that the failure of this film prevented Lubitsch from ever undertaking another drama.
Sandwiched as it is between his more usual fair (i.e. saucy operetta),
Lubitsch's "Broken Lullaby" has not only been eclipsed, it has been
forgotten. This is a crime.
While the subject matter is entirely serious, there are several "Lubitsch touches" that reveal the scope of the message behind "Broken Lullaby," particularly the sequence wherein the wives of the town open their windows to call to the neighbors, passing along a chain of gossip that follows the hero and heroine on their way home. Another brilliant community sequence involves the town elders gathered together to drink beer and pass judgment, which stops cold once Barrymore (who has made the Ftrench soldier a sort of surrogate son) joins them.
The plot of "Broken Lullaby" is doubly suspenseful: for the first half of the film, you wonder how Paul will reveal his secret to the Holderlin family; when he opts to follow a non-confrontational line of masquerade, the new suspense sets in as you wonder when he'll tell them the truth (or will they find out on their own?).
Phillips Holmes is strikingly handsome, and while his performance may seem too old school for modern eyes, he is completely honest as the soldier who is near-to-bursting with guilt (although remorse is a better way to put it). Lionel Barrymore should have received his Oscar nod for this film, and his speech to his peers at the inn is delivered with all the fire of a later Capra idealist. Only Nancy Carroll (so good in the same year's "Hot Saturday) seems out of place as Elsa: she is too American for this tale.
Brilliant details such as a glimpse of a military parade as seen from behind a soldier who has lost one leg, Barrymore adjusting the clock in his dead son's immaculately kept room (shrine?), and the many battle montages overlapping the opening church service culminate in the most understated, moving, and beautiful final moments of any film, one in which dialog is jettisoned in favor of two instruments joining to play one gorgeous song.
"Broken Lullaby" deserves restoration and a release on DVD immediately, not only for Lubitsch fans interested in seeing another side of the master's art, but also for those who embrace the ethos of acceptance and love.
This early-sound film appeared fourteen years after the end of the "Great
War." Lionel Barrymore, as Dr. Holderlin, the father of Walter, a German
soldier killed in that war, provides a stirring metaphorical introspection
into the militaristic bravado that inspired so many young Germans to
and caused so many to die. Dr. Holderlin's comments at his "Stammtisch" (a
cafe table reserved for town notables) are, for the time, surprisingly
and revealing. He confesses he was caught up in the romance and pageantry
flags, trumpets and columns of uniformed young men marching off to meet
enemy. He believes he, together with others who shared those views, was as
much responsible for his son's death as the enemy.
But it turns out the enemy, in the form of Paul, the French soldier who killed Barrymore's son, is as remorseful as the good doctor. Paul and Walter knew each other before the War. Paul's guilt that he was the cause of Walter's death drove Paul to Germany in an attempt at closure. There he met Walter's family and Elsa, Walter's sweetheart. Everyone's guilt and grief create in Paul a kind of eerie substitute for Walter. The film ends with Paul playing on the violin a lullaby similar to those Walter had played before the War.
*Broken Lullaby* is an excellent anti-war film, much in the *All Quiet on the Western Front* genre. It is unfortunate that it has not over the years received the critical attention it deserves.
What a pleasant surprise! This touching story of the misery visited upon one man by the First World War leads to memorable statement about who is responsible for war. I will definitely share this video with my friends.
It's hard to believe that Ernst Lubitsch directed this melodramatic
story of a French soldier obsessed with the memory of the German
soldier he killed in the trenches during WWI.
PHILLIPS HOLMES plays the soldier in a tortured acting style reminiscent of the sort later essayed by Montgomery Clift. In fact, Holmes would go on to play one of the roles Clift is most associated with--the young man accused of murder in "An American Tragedy" (later made as "A Place in the Sun" with Clift and Elizabeth Taylor).
LIONEL BARRYMORE is the murdered soldier's father, touched by the fact that Holmes came to Germany to place flowers on his son's grave. His actions are also misunderstood by the soldier's fiancé (NANCY CARROLL) and his mother. Holmes sets out to tell them the truth, but changes his mind and stays in the household where he gradually falls in love with Carroll.
The villagers are all agog with gossip that the Frenchman and the German girl are getting on so well. Meanwhile, the viewer is left pondering how it will all turn out once the truth is known among the participants in the household.
Obviously made as an anti-war drama, it's done in the heavy-handed style often adapted in films of the '30s based on stage plays. Holmes tends to overact is role, but is very impressive in some scenes. It's too bad that this untimely death left us with a broken record of what his career might have been.
A haunting depiction of the moral after-effects of war (in this case, of World War I) on the life of a young French soldier who in a battlefield trench bayonets a young non-resisting German soldier. Reading a letter found on the deceased's body sets him on a trail of guilt in search of forgiveness. The pilgrimage leads him to Germany and the house of the dead man's parents. Though over-shadowed by the more famous "All Quiet on the Western Front", this film is no less poignant in its anti-war sentiment. In a few scenes the camera work is symbolically brilliant, adding a graphic depth to the dialog that follows. I saw it on TV in England; other reviewers report on it from Japan, Brazil, Canada, and the US. But never from DVD or video. Why not? It is a masterpiece worth preserving for generations to come, of those doubting the merits of war; worth buying and sharing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the early 1930s, there were a long string of anti-war films. After
the carnage and senseless loss of WWI, people were now ready to face
this and work towards a lasting peace. While Hollywood made several
such films (THE EAGLE AND THE HAWK, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT AND
BROKEN LULLABY), other nations also made similar films with similar
messages (such as the French film J'ACCUSE or the German WESTFRONT
1918). Sadly, however, WWII would undo all this wonderful sentiment and
it was a failed attempt to work past the stupidity of war.
BROKEN LULLABY begins with a very emotional scene where a French soldier (Paul) kills a German in the trenches. Despite doing his duty as a soldier, the man was severely effected by this death and it haunts him. Although he goes to confession after the war, he doesn't feel absolved for the death--even when the priest told him he has not sinned--after all, it was war. In an odd twist, Paul decides to go to Germany to seek absolution from the family of the man he killed! But, before he can explain why he is there, the family assumes he was a friend of their dead son (who'd lived in Paris before the war). Now, he's at a loss--should he tell these sweet people or keep it to himself and work out his absolution on his own?
There's an awful lot to like about this film. In addition to an excellent and literate script, the film has two other things working in its favor--the amazing way the film ended and the deft direction by Ernst Lubitsch. As for the ending, it was very simple but very, very touching--leaving the viewer impressed with its almost lyrical nature. It truly is a work of art. While Lubitsch is well known for his comedies and musicals, here he is just as adept with relationships. Plus, being German by birth, he had an easy time getting in touch with the spirit of a German town.
The only negative, and it's a small one, is that all the actors are clearly Americans. With no trace of German or French accents, it does seem a tad strange. Still, this was a common practice in Hollywood during this era and it didn't seriously detract from the film.
Overall, while not the very best of the anti-war films of the 30s, it is among the best and is significantly different from the rest. It's well worth seeing and you can't help but admire it even 77 years later.
Is this really a Lubitsch film? I discovered "The Man I Killed" aka "Broken
Lullaby" the other night and my feelings are somewhat mixed. The film
concerns a young French soldier, Paul, that has killed an equally young and
able German soldier, Walter, in the trenches during the final days of World
War I. Paul is constantly overcome by feelings of guilt and remorse and he
travels to a small German town where the dead soldier's family lives. The
family thinks he is Walter's dear friend. Paul's presence in the town
outrages some folks, but in the family he is their son and replaces the dead
soldier. Paul confides to Walter's Fiancee, Fraulein Elsa, about his real
relationship to Walter, but she discourages to tell the family because it
will create more problems and ultimately disrupt the wholesomeness of the
In many ways, "Broken Lullaby" is Lubitsch's most atypical film. Remarkable how the director of sparkling and sophisticated comedies and operettas could come up with such ambitious, deeply serious subject like "Broken Lullaby". Although I was kind of moved by the film's overpowering message of pacifism and wholesomeness, I can't help feeling that this is not the sort of picture Lubitsch should have made in the first place. At times, it feels unbearably heavy-handed & preachy as it relentlessly tries to make its pacifist, anti-war message palatable to the viewer. But that does not mean a remotely mediocre movie. It is just different for Lubitsch.
Broken Lullaby is a story in the vein of All Quiet on the Western
Front. Paul Renaud (Phillips Holmes) is a soldier for France during
WWI. He does his duty and kills an enemy, but the ordeal scars him
painfully. He becomes obsessed with his victim, discovers his name is
Walter Holderlin, and even goes to Walter's hometown to visit with his
family. He intends to tell them of his crime, to apologize and explain
himself. However, when he goes to their home and meets with his father
(Lionel Barrymore), he finds he cannot go through with it. He decieves
them into thinking he was friends with Walter, and that he came to
offer himself as a replacement for their son. In a way, he does take
over Walters life, and even falls in love with his fiancée (Nancy
A highly sophisticated but atypical Lubitsch film, Broken Lullaby has many memorable scenes and great photographic elements. The camera is hardly static, even for such an early talking picture. The major flaw with it is Holmes' acting style. While the others are more subdued and natural, his stagy performance is a bit offputting.
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