Liliom (1930)

This was… strange. That said, I’m sure not all of Liliom‘s strangeness is down to Borzage, a lot of it comes from his source material, Ferenc Molnar’s play of the same name… although Borzage’s particular handling of his material is, I’m sure, peculiar to him rather than Molnar. Charles Farrell stars again though he’s paired here with Rose Hobart cos Janet Gaynor had gone on strike; the resultant chemistry is markedly different and I never entirely bought it. Liliom himself is a carousel barker in Budapest who finds himself drawn to a young maid, Julie, who he treats pretty poorly and then gets up the duff; in order to support her and their impending child, he reluctantly takes part in a damn fool robbery scheme dreamt up by a criminal associate, which goes wrong and ends with Liliom stabbing himself to escape capture. So far, so good… and then Liliom’s soul gets taken away on a heavenly choo-choo train to WHAT THE FUCK-land. I could make a crack about the film going off the rails at this point, but I’ll refrain… This review makes a point, though, which is good about Borzage’s “real world” being weird enough even before the story hits the afterlife, this expressionistic studio landscape that culminates in Liliom’s brief reappearance outside Julie’s house, which looks like it was auditioning for a remake of Caligari. I think this is what causes a sense of strangeness to hang over the whole film rather than just the last part, which takes the story literally elsewhere… I know the play was later turned into the musical Carousel, which I’ve never seen but I wonder even so if this story might work better in that form cos the musical is so often removed from “reality”. In this case there just seemed to be a clash of… well, something against something. It was interesting after a fashion but I don’t think I could say I liked it as such.

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