Pandora's Box (1929) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • The rise and inevitable fall of an amoral but naive young woman whose insouciant eroticism inspires lust and violence in those around her.

  • Lulu is a beautiful young woman who can seemingly work her charms on all of the men around her. She is currently being kept by the rich editor Dr. Ludwig Schön. She is just a plaything however and he is engaged to be married to Charlotte, a woman of his own class. He arranges for Lulu to appear in his son Alwa's musical revue and he too falls for all of her charms. When Dr. Schön and his fiancée go to the theater, Lulu ensures that he is put in a compromising situation and the elder Schön feels he now must marry her, knowing full well it will ruin his reputation. On his wedding day, Dr. Schön reaches his breaking point. His actions cost him his life however and Lulu is convicted of manslaughter. She escapes with the help of her old cronies but together they begin a downward spiral.

  • G.W. Pabst's film that catapulted Louise Brooks to international acclaim and made her 'the' icon of the Jazz Age tells the tragic story of Lulu, the hedonistic dancer and prostitute. Based on the plays of F. Wedekind.

  • In Weimar Germany, Lulu is an entrancing and beautiful free-spirited Jewish girl who lives on the beneficences of the men who fall under her powerful yet somehow innocent spell. Her current paramour is the highly-respectable Dr. Schön, but even his handsome son Alwa cannot resist the draw which Lulu exerts. Dr. Schön comes to believe he must marry Lulu, even though he has been engaged to a proper young woman of his own class, when his affair with Lulu becomes public. At their marriage celebration, Schön becomes jealously enraged by her behavior, and tragedy ensues. Although Lulu appears to escape the fate that this tragedy would suggest, her unwitting power over men leads her, and several of the men, in a seemingly inescapable spiral downwards toward destitution and further tragedy.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Pandoras Box leaps into the story of Lulu (Louise Brooks), a vivacious and alluring young woman. Lulu supports herself in a the apartment where we first meet her, funished nicely, including a painting of her as well as a large menorah. In the very first act what at first seems to be a pathetic beggar comes to the door, but it turns out that he's actually her conniving old pimp Schigolch (Carl Goetz) who's got plenty of money - and as the story plays out he helps himself to her money from the many companions she keeps. She is very cozy with him, though perhaps he would prefer more, and she refers to him as her first "patron". It is Lulu and her 'patron' who are behind the scenes in this movie. At the start Lulu's lover is the prestigious Dr. Ludwig Schoen (Fritz Kortner). Dr. Schoen comes to break their relationship, already scandalous, as he is engaged to be married to a woman who we soon meet, the minister of the Interior Herr von Zarnikos' daughter Charlotte Marie Adelaide. But Lulu won't be so easily dismissed. This is facilitated by Schigolgh's timely introduction of Lulu her to Rodrigo Quast (Carl Raschig) a variety acrobat that wants to put Lulu in one of his shows, and Lulu frankly admires his muscles.

    Lulu had become close friends with Dr. Schoen's son Alwa. In a possessive form of jealousy Dr. Schoen advises Alwa not to let Lulu do her trapeze act, but instead to put her in Alwas' revue.

    At the revue we find everyone glamorously dressed for the lavish dance variety show. There is a hustle and bustle backstage and when Lulu catches a glimpse of Dr. Schoens fiancée Charlotte, Lulu refuses to go on. This frustrates Dr. Schoen and he rushes her into an empty prop room where she plays a temper tantrum as she throws herself onto a bedded area against the prop shelves. She kicks her legs about, pulls and tugs at Dr. Schoen in a teasing manner that causes him to succumb to her after she sexily bites at his finger. They kiss and embrace and then the door opens allowing the director, Alwa and Charlotte to glimpse Dr. Schoens infidelity. This pleases Lulu as she smiles mischievously to everyone. She stands curtly and prances out of the room with a smug sense of satisfaction. She goes on with the performance while they are left to sort out the emotions they all are suffering over Lulu.

    The events of Dr. Schoens life are traumatically altered as he realizes that he is doomed to be in love with Lulu, which will in some way lead to his downfall. At their wedding reception Lulu is radiant in her white dress and her friends Schigolch and Rodrigo are in attendance. They both get quite intoxicated and Schigolch is determined to place a rose on the brides bed. In doing this it leads to a private party in the bedroom. Dr. Schoen enters the room to find Lulu his wife sitting in the lap of the debauched Schigolch with a Drunken Rodrigo nearby. This is too much for Dr. Schoen to allow. He silently has a mental snap, reaches for his hand gun and points it at Schigolch and Rodrigo but Lulu protests that he cannot shoot Schigologh - he's her father! Schifolch and Rodrigo scramble out of the room and into the continuing party in the adjoining room. Dr. Schoens threatens both Rodrigo and Schigolch by waving the firearm at them through the living room reception party until they exit the party. This shocks the guests and they all decide to leave. While this is going on, his son Alwa declares his love to Lulu and invites her to go with him on his train trip. He cradles his head on her lap and appears in ecstasy as she sits caressing him tenderly. Dr. Schoen goes back to the room and quickly warns his son not to miss his train. After Alwa leaves the room Dr. Schoen deliberately moves towards Lulu with an insane look in his eyes. She realizes he is not of right mind. For the first time she realizes that her behavior has gone too far as he jams the handgun into her delicate hand. He orders her to kill herself. This leads to a struggle which ends in Dr. Schoen being shot in the belly by his own weapon. As he slowly dies Alwa returns and as his father clutches his son in his last breaths he warns Alwa about Lulu and that he will be next.

    Lulu is charged by the courts and the prosecutor wants the death penalty. During the trial the prosecutor likens Lulu to the Greek Goddess Pandora an expert at flattery who opened the box given to her by the Gods and let evil loose upon the world. While the defense portrays Lulu as innocent, the prosecutor sees her as Pandora, and accuses her of leading Dr. Schoen to his demise. The trial ends up with Lulu getting a minimal prison sentence of five years, however her friends have other plans and they create a ruse by pulling the fire alarm, which provides them the chance to break Lulu free from her captivity.

    Lulu returns home to the scene of her crime as a fugitive. Alwa returns and wonders how she could feel comfortable in the place his fathers blood was shed. She picks up the phone ready to turn herself in until Alwa takes over the call to stop her from giving her location up. He pretends to the state prosecutor that he has not seen her and Lulu takes this as a sign that she is still in control of his affections. He succumbs to her feminine power, she leaves him under complete control within her arms. She agrees to go with him as they hug romantically.

    On the ship ride Lulu is greeted by a nefarious gentleman who works behind the scenes to use her vulnerability of having a bounty on her head to sell her to an Egyptian who owns a place in Cairo where discriminating customers will take pleasure in Lulus company. Meanwhile Rodrigo is trying to drum up capital for another show and he tries to strong arm it out of Lulu. In her dismay over his domineering threats, she reverts to Schigolch for help who in his sleazy manner sits her on his lap telling her to cry it all away. Then he has an idea and they use Alwa to cheat at cards in the ships casino. Alwa is ultimately caught at the table and then pandemonium occurs as they try and get off the ship and escape the detectives searching for the fugitive Lulu. During the chaos onboard the ship they manage to sneak off in a row boat. It is Christmas time and a tall, handsome man in a long trench coat travels the foggy night. He comes upon a large group of towns people outside by the decorated Christmas tree drinking hot cider in celebration of the season. He meets a young woman and they share glances. Lulu, Schigolch, and Alwa are held up in a drafty room with only a bottle of whisky, some dried bread, and a candle. Lulu sits and does her make-up. Later she is being talked up by a man on the street and when he leaves, Schigolch tells Lulu that it is a shame; because he may have provided them some money. He is slyly conferring to Lulu that it is time for her to take on some customers for their survival on the streets. This is not a good time to be walking the streets as there have been several girls and women that have been killed by an unknown assailant who is known in history as Jack the Ripper. The tall handsome man that shared in cider with the young woman in the Christmas gathering meets Lulu and she immediately takes a liking to him. As she leads him to the room upstairs he holds a knife behind his back. He is the killer and she is unaware. He clenches the knife tightly overcome with an insatiable need to stab her dead, but her kindness overcomes his desire to kill. His maniacal episode passes. He drops the blade and continues up the stairs to be with Lulu. In the room they share an intimacy without words. It is a real affection, but as they embrace, a knife is on the table glimmering in the light. This sets off the chain of circumstances that ignite the killer within the seemingly gentle man. He reaches for it and as he kisses Lulu he stabs her to death.

    The ripper leaves the room and passes Alwa outside in the doorway. He continues to walk off into the foggy night, while Alwa presses his head to the wall upset that Lulu must resort to selling herself for their survival, and for the situation he finds himself in as a result of his love for Lulu. Schigolch sits in a local tavern as he watches the marching band go by in the street; he finally gets to eat a Christmas pudding. As Lulu lay dead alone in the drafty room; Alwas lost in his obsession over Lulu as he despairingly walks off on the streets alone, cold in the dark. --By Joseph A. Perez

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