Pandora's Box (1929) Poster


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An extraordinary silent film that transcends both its medium and time
Glida10 January 2000
Lulu, the protagonist of _Pandora's box_ portrayed by Louise Brooks, lives beyond the constraints of time. She was radiant, outrageous - an icon of modernity that seemed to transcend all time and place. She challenged sexual conventions, and became a screen seductress like no other - not through the traditional devices of the femme fatale, but rather through her bold, kittenish innocence.

This portrayal of innocence is largely what makes her performance both powerful and unique. She's outrageously excessive and provocative, but because she engenders such sympathy, we cannot fail to identify with her. In a sense, she seduces us as she seduces the men whom she encounters. That identification, despite her destructiveness, is much of what makes this film so compelling; we love her despite ourselves.

There are three films that permanently altered my sense of the power of the silent cinema: Sunrise (Murnau); The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer), and this triumph.

This film reaches the highest pinnacle of the cinematic experience; it transforms the viewer through its indelible images and hypnotic captivation.

I can only wish that the first time viewer has the pleasure of experiencing this film and Brooks' immortal performance in a theater with live accompaniment as I did at the Virginia Film Festival.
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The best "Lulu"-performance ever!
hasosch2 February 2005
For his movie "Die Büchse Der Pandora (Panodra's Box)", G.W. Pabst took together the tragedies "Der Erdgeist" and "Die Büchse Der Pandora", forming the famous Lulu-diptych written by German dramatist Frank Wedekind (1864-1918), an important ancestor of literary expressionism, who wrote amongst other works "Frühlings Erwachen" that caused many scandals.

What is congenial about this movie, is not only the fact, that Louise Brooks is doubtless the best Lulu ever seen (in theater as well as on the screen), but how G.W. Pabst managed to amalgamate this two literary masterpieces of the time of sexual liberation in Europe.

It is a real pity, that not more of Pabst work can be reached in the US and that most of his work is not available at all on DVD.
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Downbeat But Engrossing, Sordid Yet Artistic
Snow Leopard13 April 2004
This feature has quite an unusual feel to it - generally downbeat, but engrossing, and filled with sordid characters and settings, yet somehow artistic. Moreover, it's not downbeat or sordid in the pretentious, empty way that characterizes so many recent movies. Rather, despite portraying its characters in a largely unfavorable light, it neither exploits them nor glorifies them. These persons are shown simply to be what they are, and while there is a certain inevitability about many of the things that befall them, there is a thoughtfulness as well. You would not want to be like, or perhaps even meet, most of these characters, and yet you want to wish them better luck.

Louise Brooks gets most of the attention (both in the movie itself and from those who discuss it). The "Pandora's Box" image for her character is appropriate, in that Lulu is never ill-intentioned nor malicious, and yet she often puts the other characters in difficult situations, just by being who she is and acting naturally. All of the other significant characters are defined largely in terms of their responses to her and relationships with her, and all of the characters (including Lulu) have very evident faults and make some very preventable blunders. The result is an unusual and very interesting movie. Director G.W. Pabst deserves the credit most of all for creating the atmosphere, putting everything together, and making it work so well.
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Astonishingly modern
lauloi10 February 2002
I had heard "Pandora's Box" called a German Expressionist film, the class to which such great and outlandish films as Wiene's "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", and Lang's "Metropolis" and the sadly dated but very interesting "Nosferatu" by Walter Murnau, I expected it to have the same elements-- extremely stylized acting and direction, bizarre artificial sets, and a general atmosphere of utter surreality. So I was very surprised at and fascinated with the naturalism of G. W. Pabst's "Pandora's Box", particularly with Louise Brook's celebrated performance as the cheerful, childlike, tragic femme fatale Lulu. Pabst's direction is essentially modern, even without the use of sound. While sometimes the direction and acting in even "Caligari" and "Metropolis" provoke laughter from the bemused audience,"Pandora's Box" holds the viewer spellbound, and its not infrequent humor is intentional. Like other German Expressionist silent films, "Pandora's Box" has a dark message. From the beginning, however, it is far less stylized, and the settings look like they might actually have existed in the 1920's, instead of only in someone's dream world. Nevertheless the film makes excellent use of Expressionistic lighting and chiaroscuro, which highlights the visions of fruitless and immoral frivolity, desperate gambling and unhealthy sexuality.

Altogether, this film is beautiful and absorbing, and even if nothing else, it should not be missed for Louise Brooks' superb performance.
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Greatest Silent Film
Vlad B.14 April 1999
Of all the silent dramas of the '20s, perhaps none is as compelling and inherently watchable as "Pandora's Box" of 1928. Amazingly, despite its age and completely different cinematic conventions, this G.W. Pabst picture continues to influence filmmakers worldwide. Made in Weimar Germany, it stars Louise Brooks, an American actress now considered the quintessential symbol of the flapper era. If not for her presence, the film would probably never have its incredible durability and cult status. She is the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's Mia Wallace in both personality and sheer appearance. For the source of that chic haircut, look no further than Lulu, the proto-"femme fatale" played by Brooks. In a plot that could have come right out of a modern daytime talk show, she manages to destroy the lives of virtually everyone who loves her. Lulu (an aspiring actress), is simultaneously involved with Dr. Schoen (a prominent, high-society man) and his son, while being pursued by a lesbian admirer. To make matters worse, she is "supervised" by a rather disgusting, shady, pimp-like creature impersonating her father. And that's only the beginning. The girl's circumstances become even more bizarre as the action progresses. Obviously, given such a juicy storyline, the audience could well have been treated with a dose of laughable high camp. But Pabst, through brilliant cinematography (and, incidentally, silence), manages to retain dignity and generate powerful emotions as opposed to sarcasm and mild amusement. Precisely because the characters do not speak, we have an opportunity to witness their expressions and gestures. The camera spends much time on Brooks' face, showing the wide range of her emotions: from playfulness to rebellion to despair and back again. That face is one of the most versatile (not to mention the most beautiful) in the history of cinema. At the conclusion of the film's best scene-- as Dr. Schoen's fiancee catches him red handed in Lulu's dressing room-- her competitor slowly dismounts him with a momentary smirk full of hurt and disdain, yet somehow ballsy and triumphant. Such precious and sophisticated details make "Pandora's Box" a masterpiece. The title itself is mentioned in an inevitable courtroom scene midway through the story, by a prosecutor who crudely accuses the girl of being the root of all evil. This is where the film's sociological implications make it stand out from many of its contempories. Louise does not portray a conniving temptress. On the contrary, the people around her fall prey to their inhibitions, delusions and obsessions. Essentially, she is only an indirect cause of their demise and never fully responsible. Lulu's representation as a victim of nothing but her own zest for love and life in a stagnant, repressive society, is an example of humanist cinema at its finest. Brooks' personal life was no less turbulent than her character's: after a potentially prosperous career and scores of lovers (from Chaplin to Pabst himself), she quit the business, refusing to cooperate with its humiliating limitations and rigid standards. Fortunately for us, her name has been immortalized in an impeccable movie.
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A natural in action
tprofumo26 December 2002
Louise Brooks may have never studied acting, but every actor should study her. How much they can learn is questionable though. This dancer/chorus girl turned film star was one of those rare creatures who probably couldn't have told you what she was doing, even if she thought long and hard about it (and Brooks was an intelligent, articulate woman.)

Like a great natural athlete, she simply could do it, and do it better than almost anyone else. Pandora's Box is the greatest existing record of her technique and remarkable talents.

On the surface, a run of the mill story of a femme fatale who destroys the men around her, this G. W. Pabst film is complicated, dark, moody, and seemingly packed with contradictory messages. Well acted and well directed by Pabst, it nonetheless would have been forgotten decades ago, had it not been for its star.

Brooks was one of the most beautiful, most photogenic woman to ever appear on the screen. From some angles, her face is so remarkable it almost doesn't seem real.

Her personality exceeds her beauty and it was the perfect personality to capture the childish, petulant, self centered, yet sweetly innocent kid who is the embodiment of every pretty girl who wants what she wants, regardless of the consequences.

Pabst' film, based on two German stage plays, is also a fascinating look at male sexual obsession, at men unable to control their lust who want to destroy the object of that lust before she destroys them.

Yet all the messages aside, it is simply Brooks totally natural performance that in the end will be remembered here.

Ironically, Brooks was really no more than a starlet in her American silent film days and it took her three European films to elevate her name above the title. And those films were hardly seen in the U.S. in their day. Yet today, women whose names were household words in America in the silent era, like Coleen Moore and even Clara Bow, are all but forgotten, while the Brooks legend grows stronger each year.

While Brooks has benefitted from a well written biography and the adoration of much of the press, a close examination of Pandora's Box proves she was much more than just hype.

This movie is one of the great treasures of the cinema, and Louise Brooks is one of the most talented and most fascinating actresses to ever appear in movies, on either side of the Atlantic.
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One of the best silent films I've seen
funkyfry28 October 2002
Tightly paced, well-directed tale of Lulu (Brooks), a tramp with a heart of gold -- sort of. Brooks is a job to watch, and she's supported by a good cast.

Not realist in style, very cinematic, editing is a key in telling the story and the use of film is amazingly efficient. I found myself wondering towards the end of the film if I had seen any title cards at all -- there were so few and the action and emotion were so well conveyed by the directing.
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A Classic
gbheron20 November 1999
Describing a film like PANDORA'S BOX is difficult. As a sterling example of German Expressionism you know it's not a piece of fluff. It's complex, deep, and not for the sitcom and Star Trek crowds. You have to lose yourself in it, and that is to lose yourself in Louise Brooks as PANDORA'S BOX is her movie. Not to diminish the genius of G.W. Pabst but it is Brooks that dominates this movie like so few actors can do. Without Brooks this movie could not exist.

Whew. And what's it about you may ask? It's a morality play made and set in the Berlin of 1928. While I watched the film I could not shake the knowledge of the cataclysm that was to be unleashed on Germany in five short years. In a way Pabst knew it too. (I was particularly weirded by the prominent display of a menorah in one of the Berlin apartment sets.)

I recommend that everyone that loves movies should at some point find the video store in their neighborhood that stocks old movies, rent PANDORA'S BOX, and experience it for themselves.
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This will leave you breathless!
Bucs196023 October 2001
No beauty has ever graced the screen like that of Louise Brooks. No film has ever validated that beauty like "Pandora's Box". It took Pabst to recognize that this wild, uninhibited American flapper could turn in a performance like Lulu in this film. It is for the ages and time has not dimmed it at all. She brings Lulu to life with such joie de vivre and also such poignancy, that it hurts to watch it....especially when you realize that Brooks' career would soon turn into a shambles when she returned to Hollywood. If you don't have an appreciation of silent films, you need to watch this one and you will see the true art form that existed before "talkies" came into vogue. If "Pandora's Box" does not convince you, you can't be convinced.
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Tragic Masterpiece
Claudio Carvalho27 June 2012
The dancer and prostitute Lulu (Louise Brooks) is the mistress of the newspaper owner Dr. Ludwig Schön (Fritz Kortner) and lives in an apartment paid by him. When her former "protector" Schigolch (Carl Goetz) visits Lulu, he brings the opportunist agent Rodrigo Quast (Krafft-Raschig) that invites Lulu to dance in a play.

Dr. Schön tells Lulu that he will marry the aristocratic Charlotte Marie Adelaide v. Zarnikow (Daisy D'Ora) and mesmerizing Lulu forces him to marry her. However, in the wedding party, Dr. Schön finds Lulu partying with Schigolch and Rodrigo Quast in their bedroom and he gets his pistol and forces Lulu to shoot him. Lulu is arrested and almost six months later, she goes to the tribunal for trial. Despite the testimony of Dr. Schön's son Alwa Schön (Franz Lederer) and his friend Countess Anna Geschwitz (Alice Roberts), Lulu is sentenced to five years in prison in a prejudicial verdict. But her friends cause a bedlam in court and Lulu flees. Alwa and Lulu decide to travel to Paris, but in the train, they are convinced to follow the crook Marquis Casti-Piani (Michael v. Newlinsky) in the beginning of Lulu's downfall.

"Die Büchse der Pandora" is a tragic masterpiece by Georg Wilhelm Pabst with the beautiful and talented Louise Brooks in the lead role. This actress seduces not only the men in the film, but the male viewers with her beauty and innocent and naive look. Last time I saw "Die Büchse der Pandora" was on 12 October 1999 and yesterday I was spellbound again by this lovely actress. My vote is ten.

Title (Brazil): "A Caixa de Pandora" ("The Pandora Box")
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Eric Lee9 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Louise Brooks is one of the most beautiful and seductive actresses who ever lived. This film is her triumph. As others have pointed out, it is an utterly modern film -- including Brooks' hints at bisexuality.

But it is also a film about class, and about money, and about violence against women. Brooks is repeatedly abused by men, grabbed, shaken, hit and eventually murdered. So the film is not only modern in its sexuality, but in the broader social issues it raises.

One minor point, one commenter noted the menorah in her first apartment; I could not see it that clearly, but while it had room for eight candles all of equal height, I did not notice a place for the ninth candle, the one which lights the others, known in Hebrew as a "shamash" (servant). I saw no other Jewish symbols in the room, nor were their any other references -- at least not explicit ones -- to Judaism or Naziism.
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Pandora's Box
dreverativy31 December 2006
I went into this film with a great weight of expectation, which was crushed by the rather more pedestrian reality. It remains famous chiefly on account of its reputation as a great film (stoked by Kenneth Tynan's famous "New Yorker" article of 1979). However it is not great, only very good.

To begin with it is rather too long - it could have lost thirty minutes or so with little ill effect. It also suffers because the relationship between Lulu (Louise Brooks) and the two main male characters (Fritz Kortner as the elder Schon, the press baron, and Franz Lederer, as his son) lacks real feeling. Not long after her sensational trial - where Lulu poses to great effect, she winds up in London's East End. I found this coda really rather bizarre and perhaps inadequate. There is only perdition, and no redemption to be found in the flop house to which she has condemned herself. Of course G. W. Pabst was to revisit Limehouse, Stepney and Whitechapel in Brecht's "Beggar's Opera". I haven't read Frank Wedekind's two sensationalist Lulu plays, so I don't know whether the screen version is faithful to the original story. The plays ("Erdgeist" - 1895, and "Die Buchse der Pandora" - 1902) scandalised Europe and were, for a long time (even after 1918) only known by reputation. They had the effect of branding Wedekind as 'the least popular major dramatist of the twentieth century' (as Thomas Mann put it).

Everyone performs well (particular mention should be made of Lulu's 'father' - probably pimp - a brilliantly vile and sordid Carl Gotz as Schigolch). The production values are exemplary, and photography (in customary expressionist mode) is as fine as we have come to expect from German films of this era - by Gunther Krampf.

Brooks snubbed Paramount's B. P. Schulberg when her adviser George Marshall (not the general) told her that she could get $1,000 a week with Pabst as opposed to the $750 that Paramount were offering. Unbeknownst to her Marshall had received an offer from the great Flo Ziegfeld for a lead part in "Show Girl". Marshall sent the Follies a letter of refusal from Brooks, which Brooks had never seen or written. Ziegfeld never forgave Brooks this refusal, and handed the part to Ruby Keeler.

Marlene Dietrich desired the part of Lulu, but Pabst felt she wasn't right: "Dietrich was too old and too obvious. One sexy look and the picture would become a burlesque". I think this was right. Brooks has just the right combination of faux-naive innocence and shameless promiscuity. Dietrich looks as though she has been round the block a little too often. Dietrich (who was enraged by the refusal) was also too well known in Germany, whereas Pabst and Nero-Film could engineer a massive publicity campaign on Brooks' behalf because she was said to be a great American star (who hardly anyone had heard of in Europe) and was the Acme edition of a stateside flapper. The market for Dietrich was already saturated. In fact the market for Brooks would become saturated pretty quickly as well. "Pandora's Box" bumped along in Germany, and failed to do well elsewhere. Brooks' career in Europe was destined to be brief.
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Pabst knew something of atmosphere.
Ben Parker31 March 2004
The thing which stood out for me in my experience of this movie was its exquisite lighting. If i had to name the most incredible use of lighting i've ever seen, i would name this. There are images here which are illuminated as delicately as a flickering candle, or often as evocative as a flickering candle. It is often called intoxicating and shimmering, and people get this impression of it because of its light.

A colourful cast of decadent misfits accompany showgirl and prostitute Lulu (Louise Brooks, who has an incredibly charismatic presence, was forever nicknamed Lulu after this role) in her major misadventure, her love for a married man, which is what opens pandora's box in this tale. Each character has such a wonderfully suggestive face, due to the way they are lit. And they are all introduced really well, so that they have a really distinct character, and you remember all of them. Each character has a distinctive persona, which borders on caricature. Most of the band of misfits seem like broad comedy characters, but then they turn around and surprise you with a serious moment.

Note: beware music which is not Timothy Brock's score:

Unfortunately, the art gallery who were playing it were playing it at sound speed, which is way too fast, and almost makes farce of what was dark comic-tragic action - and it had the single worst attempt at capturing the mood of a silent movie in music. Timothy Brock (The Last Laugh, Sunrise) has done a score for this one, and i expected to here that, since Brock has a real feel for silents, and writes incredible, moody scores - but instead I was presented with a cliched piece of utter garbage which patronised every subtle element of this movie. I had trouble ignoring the music - but i did constantly feel like the action onscreen was not well summarised/generalised by the happy/sad plonking of the piano accompaniment, which pulled out of its hat every cliche tune to characterise a mood you ever heard. So undoubtedly i would have enjoyed it better with better music and more appropriate speed.
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Chris Burin19 March 2004
I have to say I disagree with those who consider Brookes' acting to be wooden, the range of emotions her face portrays in this film is staggering, and she glides across the screen like a dancer (which, of course, she was). German Expressionism produced some fantastic films, but this is has to be just about the best. Pabst obviously knew how to get the best out of her, as she performs better here than in any of her Hollywood vehicles. Her acting is really understated, which led many people to say she wasn't doing much, but her face expresses so much. Francis Lederer is pretty good as Alwa, except for the scene in which he finds her in his father's house after the court trial and completely hams it up, pulling the most excruciating "moolie" ever seen on a cinema screen. Louise Brooks was one of a kind.
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Louise Brooks as a doomed, flawed heroine--she is wonderful, the film not so much
netwallah2 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Of its kind, this is a beautiful film. It tells the ostensibly tragic tale of Lulu (Louise Brooks), whose condition sinks from mistress to cabaret dancer to wife of the suicidal man whose mistress she was, to runaway convict, to mistress of her husband's son, to destitute vagabond, to victim of Jack the ripper. Brooks is so scintillatingly lively and beautiful, with an astonishingly flexible, expressive face, and she fills the screen with irrepressible good spirits and motion and a smile that would melt glaciers—she is so beautiful, and she acts so well, and the film so well photographed, that one might almost miss the ugliness of the story. It's profoundly misogynistic, in the sense that the beautiful woman spells doom for the men who get too near her, and her beauty and her (implied) sexual promiscuity dooms her—after her husband of a few hours shoots himself, there is a trial at which the prosecutor tells the legend of Pandora's box. Lulu has opened it and released evils into the world. What is this but her sexuality? Amazingly, the jury convicts her of manslaughter on this specious argument. She escapes prison and goes on the run, but ultimately she has nowhere to go, and so winds up in England just in time to meet a strangely romanticized killer. Her charm almost saves her, but not quite. The story is awful, with its clichéd sex-leads-to-death theme, but the movie is still worth watching because Brooks is a miracle on camera
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Fatale beauté
chaos-rampant12 October 2011
Lulu is a social butterfly out for a good time, a femme who is fatale but only because the men lust after her so fiercely.

Normally in film noir the femme fatale appears to us not so much a human being but an agent, a catalyst of some dangerous illusion. She is the wet dream from the private dick's perspective, desire personified. Hollywood probably took this up from Dietrich's persona in another German film, Blue Angel from the following year, the heartless diva who presents herself in a way that will satisfy her capricious whims.

This is different though, and it is more stunning for this, the trick being that we see the world from the eyes of an innocent woman as she becomes shaped into a femme fatale. She is forced into the role and eventually plays it to perfection. The very fact that she is beautiful and sexy turns her into that prize that men would do anything to have. Film noir as we came to know it was about all these desperate efforts.

It is still however film noir in the most incisive, essential way. Dual worlds linked by the turning of karmic wheels; from inside a cheerful, innocent woman who we know to be basically good and trying to live life, but who at the same time appears provocative, alluring, exuding sex, and therefore by her very nature, by the fact that she is the person she was born to be, seems to lull men into the kind of stupor where they can dream only her, a dream so intoxicating that in turn traps her in her image.

The result is that she inhabits a different world than she weaves around her and, almost without exception, it's the jerk from one world to the other that yields the anxieties - from the private to the public, where a person is no longer himself but only the sum total of other peoples' views, and so an object of collective scrutiny or, as in our case, sexual paroxysm.

So from her end life as a series of spontaneous, often inexplicable 'nows' but which we understand to be structured around her and unwittingly powered by herself. But from the other end life organized, and from their own ends again seemingly spontaneous, with the sole intent of having her. Men suddenly crave her - they don't know why, she doesn't - and will do anything, but who she also provokes without realizing, by simply being herself.

This dual perspective that reverberates across the film, as much about the woman herself as both temptress and angelic swan, she can fit in both these roles as well as she actively pursues them, as about the swarm of men who surround her, at first pretending moral uprightness but finally more or less powerless before her charms, is ingeniously rendered in two scenes in particular.

The first is set at the courthouse where she's at trial for murder; upon being pronounced guilty, her admirers quickly stage a commotion by setting off a fire alarm that allows them to extricate her. From the outside a chance emergency, the crowd dashing, clamoring, pushing for the exit, and from her end as well, unwitting, dumbfounded, in the middle of all this crowd being carried outside, but which we know was all orchestrated by the men who'd like to have her. Of course the fire alarm is about the fires of desire.

The other is at a bar or gambling house where she has fled and is hiding for safety. A reward out on her name, various parties conspire to exploit the situation for a quick dime. Here, it is she who is spinning the most dazzling web of deceit - now improvising the role of the femme fatale on the spot, but out of pressing need. The most revealing game concocted by her: she petitions a man to gamble for her fortunes on a card table. He is winning, but of course is revealed that he was cheating all along.

It ends with all these lives finally released from the grip of the karmic energies that have clasped them so tightly, the self- instructed destinies, each according to his own decree. The man who wishes he could eat Christmas pudding one more time gets to.

Pabst orchestrates the finale as a dance of symbolic gestures; the most symbolic perhaps being that the woman had a heart of gold all along. We may had our doubts because she mingled with money, but now we know. The man doesn't to the end, this is the saddest destiny here. Of course at the cost of ever having her.
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On point
spinwitha_grin20 November 2005
Besides the grim fatalist moral lesson, the film is lacking Expressionist ideals, and is more in tune with later Weimar cinema. The fact that it has a female lead certainly separates it from the classic Expressionist works. And shadowing and landscape techniques are much more modernized reflecting Weimar's embrace of technology and immersion into consumer culture. Even today, there are few female actors that represent such a powerful will and dominant presence as Louise Brooks did in her masterful performance. The film was not very popular at its time of production and I wonder how much that has to do with this strong female presence.
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Great film, if you can find it on video
fowlerjones15 September 2000
Much as been written about this silent-era classic and star, Louise Brooks. A mid-80s videotape release is available (with music added). You won't find this at blockbuster, but I located a copy at my local library. Louise will blow you away. She has a timeless quality. She seems so modern, as if she actually lives today and was magically transported back to the 1920s for this film.

I originally saw this picture in "History of silent film" class in 1988 at the University of Kansas and have never forgotten it. An excellent biography of Louise is also available, written by Barry Paris. She lived in interesting times, was witness to much of the popular cultural phenomena of her day, and was poised to become a superstar herself. Of course, we know that last part didn't happen. Find out why when you read the book. It's fascinating. But I recommend you see 'Pandora' first, and discover for yourself why people still worship her more than 70 years later.
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Incredible film, magnificent star!
bookie-431 May 1999
Although I am a confirmed "old movie" this is the first silent film I have ever been able to watch all the way through. Louise Brooks is perhaps the most beautiful and compelling creature I have ever seen. She does not act in the film, she possesses it. I never thought it possible for a non-talkie to be able to get its message across, but this one did not even need the titles. The effects and cinematography need make no apologies for 70 years of new technology. I was truly mesmerized!
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Elegant, luminous.
cynara1 May 1999
Louise Brooks did not occupy the screen; she possessed it; she seduced it. I am bewitched - she is the most beautiful actress I have ever seen. Her acting is just as fresh and believable today as in 1928, a remarkable achievement. The storyline is a little difficult to follow at the beginning, but, somehow, it doesn't matter. The scene on the stairs at the end, when she smiles at Jack and says "come up anyway; I like you" is (for my money) one of the great film moments. She transcends the limits of the femme fatale and the good girl in that moment - she is purely Lulu, triumphant.
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All singing, all dancing monochrome masterwork
Framescourer28 May 2003
The (original) idea of Marlene Dietrich playing Lulu in this b&w silent masterpiece is absurd on the face of the script alone, but even more so in the light of Brooks' Lulu. The latter's femme fatale is an irresistible demand-pixie oblivious to both the consequences and, crucially the source of her whim. Pabst's camera loves her.

The film is an ensemble event though, despite the icon-vehicle it has become for Brooks. Franz Lederer's Alwa is the pick of the bunch, perhaps because he is the most modern of the characters - not that it protects him from Lulu's charms. Carl Gotz and Krafft Rachig are a grotesque Laurel and Hardy double act (albeit a bit early for cameo per se) a constant comic sewer to offset the pathos blossoming throughout the film. With such committed character exposition very few title cards or musical melodramatic musical signposts are necessary. A musical it ain't.

The final sequence departure from the original play (and indeed opera) is Pabst putting his own spin on the message of the film; it is startling and entirely pertinent. The film is long (135 minutes in the edition I saw) but at 8/10 it is well worth the effort.
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Is it really worth the curious peek or just an empty box? Louise Brooks' risky performance and the controversial subjects apart, I didn't know what to feel about the movie
sashank_kini-17 October 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Pandora's Box is a 1929 German silent film about the life of Lulu, a beautiful, lively, gregarious but opportunistic and manipulative woman who gets everything she wants with her seductive charms. Her life takes a positive turn at first when one of her lovers', a wealthy editor in chief Mr Schon agrees to marry her, and she is able to break into show biz. But after she kills Mr. Schon in retaliation, her life disintegrates till she is reduced to go back to her old profession as a street-walker.

     A lot many viewers today regard Louise Brooks' uncanny performance as bold, uncompromising and naturalistic. However, in 1929 soon after the film's release, a reviewer from New York Times had said that her expressions were 'hard to decipher at times'. After watching the film twice in two days, I too had similar question about Brook's character Lulu: what is her ultimate aim? Sometimes  we find her confident and heedless of her actions but at others she radiates warmth and sympathy which contradicts her former emotions. 

     Take Lulu's relationship with Mr. Schon, for instance. At the stage show in Act 3, Ludwig Schon along with his fiancé oversee the backstage happenings. When Lulu finds her lover with his fiancé, she flips out. The camera pans on her face and she genuinely seems heartbroken in that frame. That act made me believe Lulu, despite her promiscuity and love for money, truly loved the rich editor in chief. But during act 4 and especially in Act 5 after the ruckus in the courtroom scene, I found myself confused about Lulu's character. I remember Natasha's character from War and Peace who took some reckless decisions driven by instinct but that character, despite being unpredictable, at least had consistency. Therefore we could anticipate to an extent what she might do and become more curious about the situation. I could not say the same about Lulu at points in the film, and this may be partly attributed to the fact that the movie is silent and therefore doesn't have rather advantage of dialogs.Had there been dialogs, I would've probably got a better insight into Lulu's personality. But I should credit Brooks for giving her best shot and making her character starkly different and almost contemporary for that time; her killer looks are something to die for, seriously.

     I also didn't find  some cohesiveness in the storytelling as well. Gustav Diessl's character, a brutal motif serving as a resolution to Lulu's life, should've got more screen time. In fact, I was under the impression she would ditch Alva, the son of Late Schon and Lulu's hapless lover, and make off with that waiter whom she was flirting for a moment at the 'hospitable and discreet' gambling den. I also felt the character of Schigolch could have had more development; it was ironical when Lulu ends up at a garret ( she had mentioned before that she wouldn't want to go back with Schigolch to his old garret), but the initial scene when Lulu danced as Schigolch played his mouth organ could've been brought back towards the end ( like showing Lulu putting on an entertaining act along with Schigolch on the streets trying to fetch some money or attracting some bawdy men perhaps). For some reason, the initial unimportant scenes, though entertaining enough, are unnecessarily stretched. For example, when Lulu refuses to perform the skit, the director could've showed her running straight into the property room instead of having Schon coming to her, pressing her arm in front of the crew and ordering her to perform ending with Lulu telling Rodrigo that they'd do the skit they had planned, before getting into the room with Schon. 

The film's take on lesbianism is praiseworthy and Alice Roberts deserves credit for not shying away from the role. In fact, I heard she had pitched the idea of making the character of Countess Augusta a lesbian. She displays her affection so naturally, understanding the essence of her role. I remember an episode from the reality show Top Chef when one of the female contestants was highly appreciative of a fellow lady contender, and was extremely upset when the latter was eliminated. It was later told during the reunion episode that the two women had pursued a relationship after the show. And I saw the same behavior from Roberts' character - two thumbs up for her performance. 

Even though chiaroscuro is heavily used to the point that sometimes characters lose their facial features, I didn't think there was any purpose to the lighting whereas in movies like Citizen Kane, the lighting created depth, style and personality. The background music is flat and for most part inconsequential and the reason I could not find a connection with the film could be attributed to this element; it seemed to say 'watch the film like you watch any other film, and when the movie finishes, you leave'. For a movie that included controversial subjects, couldn't the background music be more radical and risky instead of a generic orchestra?  

Pandora's Box seems to have gained critical acclaim over the years. But apart from Louise Brooks' risky performance and the fact that controversial subjects were tackled, I did not know what I was supposed to feel after the movie. Is Pandora's Box really worth the curious peek or is it just an empty box?
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The Germans had a thing for men degrading and debasing themselves without limits for women. For Louise Brooks, maybe it was worth it.
pontifikator6 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The Germans had a thing for men degrading and debasing themselves without limits for women. For Louise Brooks, maybe it was worth it. This is a silent film worth seeing.

The myth of Pandora* is heartbreaking, and this movie actually follows it rather closely. Louise Brooks plays Lulu, a rather naive prostitute beloved of Professor Schon. Dr. Schon is engaged to a proper lady, but he cannot escape the lure of Lulu. He marries Lulu, but he cannot control her, and she continues her erotic behavior with others. In a rage he attacks her, she struggles, she kills him. She is convicted for the crime, but escapes before she goes to prison. She has seduced Dr. Schon's son Alwa, who takes her away.

For her escape, they go to other countries, and Alwa's money is soon exhausted. Thus begins the spiral into sordid tragedy. Lulu supports Alwa and her pimp by prostituting herself again. Eventually, Alwa sinks so low he comes to himself and leaves her as she takes a john to their room. (At least Alwa ends up better off than Professor Rath in "The Blue Angel.") Ironically, the lover is Jack the Ripper,** who murders Lulu - a circumstance of which Alwa remains oblivious as he walks away down the street. He has given up everything he had for the love of her. She has lost her life, another prostitute victim of a serial killer. Perhaps there is hope for Alwa. Or maybe not. Who knows what's left in Pandora's Box as the curtain is drawn on Alwa's wretched life?

The direction is fabulous. G.W. Pabst was at the height of his talent in 1930, and this movie shows it. All the actors were topnotch: Fritz Kortner as Professor Schon, Francis Lederer as Alwa, and Carl Goetz as the scummy Schigolch (the pimp who pretends to be her father). Louise Brooks is one of the most beautiful women of the 20th Century, and her acting here is flawless, natural. Her power over Schon and his son flows from her face and her body. This film may be the first to show a lesbian relationship between two women (Lulu and Countess Anna), and the version I saw was missing the scenes that show the end of their relationship, leaving a puzzling gap in the story line.

It's interesting to contrast this movie with "The Blue Angel," with Marlena Dietrich as Lola. Dietrich steals the show, of course, with her iconic characterization of the woman of easy virtue, but Lola is never a person we sympathize with. Lulu, on the other hand, has our feelings from the beginning. Lulu is much more complex than Lola, and Brooks inhabits the role completely. (Dietrich inhabits Lola, too, of course -- but Lola has no heart.)

*Prometheus brought mortal men fire, making them more nearly like gods. To punish Prometheus, the gods created Pandora, the first woman. Each god gave her a virtue which she was made to carry to Prometheus in a box. (I understand that Pandora means "all gifts.") Prometheus (which means foresight), wary of women bearing gifts from the gods, sent her away, and he changed all those virtues into evils. Prometheus's brother Epimetheus (hindsight) fell in love with her; Prometheus forbade Pandora and him ever to open the box, but curiosity overcame her. And when she opened the box, all evils were loosed upon the world, leaving her (and mankind) with only hope in the box. (There are other similar stories about a woman loosing evil upon the world because she failed to follow her instructions.)

**Interestingly, the costumes are current for 1929, the year of the movie, and not the times of Jack the Ripper. In this regard, it is similar to "Mating Call," a Twenties film set before the time of its making but showing flappers in all their glory.
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Opening Pandora's Box!
Syl8 October 2006
I have to say that Louise Brooks is one of those unforgettable actresses from a generation where actresses were trained to be actors. This film is probably the most famous film including Louise Brooks in collaboration with German director Pabst. Anyway, this film is done at a time in Germany before Hitler's rise to power and the second World War. The film itself is always worth viewing because the story of Pandora's Box is about Louise Brooks' character and the fate that awaits her. I saw this film in college for a Women and film class over ten years ago and I still would love to see it again. Louise Brooks should have been an Academy Award nominee for her performance.
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That Dark Enchantress that is Louise Brooks
nycritic29 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
One of the most forgotten actresses has slowly but surely emerged from being only known for her famous black bob to one of the most naturalistic performers of all time. Louise Brooks, the actress who had started out as a dancer and evolved into the quintessential flapper of the Jazz Age, probably didn't enjoy the smashing, enduring success that other flappers (including Joan Crawford) did, and mysteriously, her silky, throaty voice was deemed unsuitable for talkies, but like many actors who at their time were considered too hot to handle, she's enjoyed a tentative re-evaluation of her career to the point that now she's considered a formidable actress whose career was cut short by her own strong personality.

PANDORA'S BOX is a revolutionary movie that even when it looks tame, it's not. Choosing not to exploit as more erotic dramas of today have done, it's focused on the effect Lulu brings to the people around her. She's this magnet of sensual energy that may not be completely conscious of her own carnality until one scene when she smirks at the son of the man she's seduced smashes any possible innocence she could have had. Then again, Lulu has always been a synonym of dangerous females and here she's no less: moving from disaster to disaster and emerging unscathed, she is a femme fatale, full steam ahead. She has it all over every other femme fatale that film noir brought into life. Not Phyllis Dietrichson, not Kathie Moffat, not even Brigid O'Shaughnessy. Lulu has it all, is all. Lulu escapes conviction, tantalizes another woman (Alice Roberts in what may be the first lesbian character on film), and meets her match in none other than Jack the Ripper (a handsome Gustav Dissel) who as a male, phallic symbol is the only one who winds up smothering this uncontrollable ball of fire that she is.

Lulu's fate is relevant in more ways than the obvious because this is a Pre-Code movie made in the more tolerant Europe. It's almost as if Lulu's death on camera (seen in her beseeching hand as Dissel strangles her) would come to represent a lot more than just a character's expiring. On a parallel level, Louise Brooks career would also come to a crashing end shortly after, the Depression would take over, talkies would be the way of cinema from the year of this movie's release on, and the Jazz Age would be no more. It's for this reason that PANDORA'S BOX is a time capsule of sorts, a way of revisiting a time when rampant amoral hedonism was the order of the day. Watching an older Louise Brooks talk about this movie (and her own career) I get the hint that even while she may have been as talented as she obviously points at, her fate, as Lulu's, was pre-ordained, but crucial only as to serve as a step to the modernization of woman in general.

As an end-note, I saw this movie last Wednesday evening at the Film Forum, and I have to note Steven Sterner's fantastic, kinetic score playing live to the action in PANDORA'S BOX. His is also a conscious guest star whose presence manages to bring forth the minute details of Louise Brooks' performance and the highs and lows of the story.
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