Opening title: "This play is the love story of Julie, a serving maid, and Liliom, a merry-go-round barker. Liliom gropes and struggles through life and death, and even beyond death, ever seeking escape from himself, while Julie's love for him endures always." Set in Budapest, Hungary, Julie (Rose Hobart), works as a servant girl accompanied by her friend, Marie (Mildred Van Dorn). As much as Julie turns down dates with a caring young carpenter (Walter Abel), Julie's sole interest Liliom Zadowsky (Charles Farrell), an amusement park merry-go-round barker and ladies man. Although their union on the carousel is innocent, Liliom stirs up jealousy from his domineering employer, Madame Muskat (Estelle Taylor). She soon warns Julie to stay away from Liliom, who enters the scene by doing what he pleases. Losing his job, Liliom goes with Julie to the pub where he drinks away his sorrows. Three months later, Liliom and Julie, now married, struggle through life's hardships. Lilion, still unemployed and having the reputation of being a lazy loafer, turns down offers to return to Madame Muskat in favor of joining forces with Buzzard (Lee Tracy) to commit a robbery and use the stolen money for a better life in America, especially after learning that Julie is going to have a baby. Their plot of robbery fails. With Buzzard captured by the police, Liliom chooses the easy way out by taking his own life. On a train bound for Paradise, the soul of Liliom meets with the Chief Magistrate (H.B. Warner) who offers him a second chance in life to return to Earth. After serving ten years "in the hot place," he is given temporary freedom to visit with his daughter (Dawn O'Day). What Liliom does should determine his fate with destiny. Also in the cast are Lillian Elliott (Aunt Hulda); Bert Roach (Wolf Feiser); and Harvey Clark (The Angel Gabriel). Dawn O'Day would later become professionally known as Anne Shirley following to first leading role as ANNE OF GREEN GABLES (RKO, 1934).
As much as Charles Farrell's popularity rested upon his frequent pairing opposite Janet Gaynor (12 films in all), it's a wonder how successful he would have become acting opposite other young actresses instead. Having already done solo work opposite other leading ladies as Maureen O'Sullivan or Joan Bennett, Farrell is given Rose Hobart, in her movie debut. Farrell's leading role here, sporting dark curly hair and mustache, might have done it for him, but his weak voice was somewhat against him. Playing a similar character as an egotistical young man with a heart of gold in his first role opposite Gaynor in SEVENTH HEAVEN (1927), LILIOM, certainly has the makings of another Gaynor and Farrell romancer. Had Spencer Tracy assumed the role of Liliom instead, chances are the movie would have been a hit since Tracy acting ability seemed to be a better fit than Farrell. It's been critically said that the 1934 French-made adaptation of LILIOM starring Charles Boyer to be far superior, and possibly so. For the role of Julie, Rose Hobart does a commendable job. Her performance as a loyal wife with eternal love for her husband is certainly believable, as opposed to the pretty Mildred Van Dorn, whose weak acting and method of speaking limits the movie's credibility.
For an early 1930 talkie, LILIOM looks somewhat advanced in the European cinema sense, especially with its Heavenly futuristic scenes that make this movie seem more like a 1935 release instead. Aside from dark visuals of "film noir" style and underscoring, the train express leading to the clouds of Heaven with lavish settings is quite impressive. Aside from OUTWARD BOUND (Warners, 1930), the Heavenly theme and spiritual guidance would be done repeatedly a decade later starting with Robert Montgomery in HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (Columbia, 1941), which set the pace for other fantasies of this nature to come.
Unavailable for viewing in decades, LILIOM, has been resurrected through its distribution to DVD as a tribute to Academy Award winning director, Frank Borzage. For those familiar with the movie musical version of CAROUSEL (1956) starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, may want to take a look at this dramatic form of the same story and compare. (**)