The Oyster Princess (1919)

Much as I’ve liked these other Lubitsch films, this one gives me a greater feeling than any of them of Lubitsch just getting everything right. Characterised in the opening titles as a “grotesque comedy”, that seems like an odd description; regardless of whatever its creators may have thought it was, the film struck me as being one of the best silent comedies I’ve ever seen, and I only wish I’d been more firmly pointed in its direction much earlier. Ossi Oswalda stars again (alas, this is the last we’ll be seeing her in this collection) as the daughter of the oyster magnate Mr Quaker; daddy dearest agrees that she should marry a prince and gets a matchmaker to find her one. Unfortunately the best option is the impoverished Prince Nucki, who sends his valet Josef to check Ossi out… but when Ossi mistakes him for the prince, complications ensue. This is brilliant stuff, Lubitsch has a top story to tell and an excellent cast to tell it; Ossi shines, obviously, but she’s well matched by Harry Liedtke’s prince, Julius Falkenstein’s hapless Josef and Victor Janson’s lugubrious, not easily impressed Quaker. (Also interesting to see a young Curt Bois, nearly 70 years before his appearance in that Wenders film.) But Lubitsch himself, as the controller of all this, is the real star of proceedings, he just gives such a feeling of being on top of his game throughout, as witness, for example, the splendid “foxtrot epidemic” sequence at the wedding when everyone except the groom (who’s too busy enjoying a feed) goes dance-happy, and the way everything in the film generally seems right somehow. I think I read that this was Lubitsch’s biggest hit to that point in his career, which I can totally understand; certainly it’s one of the best films I’ve seen since I started keeping this blog…

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