The final film completed by Ernst Lubitsch, this zany, zippy comedy of manners, set in England on the cusp of World War II, is one of the worldly-wise director’s most effervescent creations. Jennifer Jones shines in a rare comedic turn as Cluny Brown, an irrepressible heroine with a zeal for plumbing. Sent to work as a parlormaid at a stuffy country manor, she proceeds to turn the household upside down—with plenty of help from Adam Belinski (Charles Boyer), an eccentric continental exile who has fled the Nazis but is still worried about where his next meal is coming from. Sending up British class hierarchy with Lubitsch’s famously light touch, Cluny Brown is a topsy-turvy farce that says nuts to the squirrels and squirrels to the nuts.
The Criterion Collection presents Ernst Lubitsch’s last film, Cluny Brown, on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode comes from a new 4K restoration, scanned from a 35mm composite fine-grain.
Though okay in the end the same issues that have befallen a number of Fox’s recent 4K restorations appear here. The big issue is that it looks as though Fox has de-grained the image quite a bit, which hurts the textures and can leave the picture with a waxier look in spots. It’s not to the degree that was found in Criterion’s release of The Earrings of Madame de… (where it looked like a Photoshop mosaic filter was applied to everything), but it kills detail and texture. I don’t feel this is an issue with Criterion since this has been an issue that pops up with Fox titles released by various labels, though it’s not consistent (Forty Guns looked good). It’s also something that has been addressed in, well, passive-aggressive ways: UK’s Indicator label, for example, released Dragonwyck with the option of watching the film through the new 4K restoration or through the older high-definition master made for DVD long ago because the 4K restoration was obviously problematic. To say the least, that’s a bit messed up for a label to feel they have to do something along those lines.
Getting back to the rest of Cluny Brown’s presentation, contrast and grayscale looks okay, it’s just that the soft look doesn’t allow the transitions between grays to come off all that impressive (this could be element related, though). The film also doesn’t appear to present any damage at all, but I would have been happy with a few slight knicks if it meant the image could be sharper. What we’re left with is fine enough but it is still a flat, slightly fuzzy looking image, not all that filmic.
Criterion offers the film’s soundtrack in lossless PCM 1.0 mono and it gets the job done. Dialogue is clear, music has some decent (if mild) range and depth to it, and I don’t recall any severe damage. There can be some noise, but that’s expected. Overall it is a clean and sharp presentation.
Criterion assembles a fine special edition for the film, starting with a new discussion between scholars Molly Haskell and Farran Smith Nehme entitled Squirrels to the Nuts (a reference to a line repeated throughout the film). The discussion centers around the lead women in Lubitsch’s films and how he liked to break stereotypes with strong, independent female characters. They spend a good amount of time talking about the various actresses that have appeared in his films (like Miriam Hopkins and Greta Garbo for example) but the conversation turns its focus on Cluny Brown and the performance by Jessica Jones, who was “loaned” out by David O. Selznick (this leads to the two getting a little into studio contracts of the time). This of course leads them into Lubitsch’s enjoyment of addressing double standards of the time and the common threads between all of this films.
Kristin Thompson then offers a video essay explaining how Lubitsch uses reaction shots for comic effect or to relay information. From here she breaks down a couple of scenes, specifically the opening and the final dinner scene. When I read the description for the feature I questioned its worth: it didn’t sound like something that really needed any delving but I ended up rather enjoying her step-by-step through the scenes, pointing out the little nuances that make them funnier. It runs 15-minutes.
Criterion then provides a feature called The Lubitsch Touch, which is a 14-minute interview with Bernard Eisenschitz recorded in 2004 for a French DVD edition. This is more of an all-encompassing feature about Lubitsch’s life and career, from his early work in Germany to his eventual move to Hollywood. It’s not terribly in-depth and the short time feels rushed, but it gets the job done.
The disc then closes with a radio adaptation of Cluny Brown from a 1950 episode of The Screen Director’s Playhouse, featuring Dorothy McGuire and Charles Boyer. It runs about 60-minutes, complete with ads and as a radio adaptation it’s decent but everything is explained rather than shown obviously. The included insert then features an essay on the film and (a little about) “The Lubitsch Touch” by Siri Hustvedt.
I would have almost expected some more material around the director himself (other than the 14-minute one included here) considering this was his last film, but since Criterion has covered Lubitsch thoroughly through other titles, I guess it would be repetition by this point. As it stands the supplements cover the film adequately enough.
A nice set of supplements in the end but the image just comes off a little processed and soft.