Lubitsch in Berlin

In case you still think that German silent cinema was all vampires, golems, somnambulists and the occasional tragic prostitute, Kino’s “Lubitsch in Berlin” box set will finally set the record straight. After immigrating to America in 1923, Ernst Lubitsch earned a reputation for the Continental sophistication of his romantic comedies, especially after leaving Warner Bros. for Paramount, where he defined that studio’s elegant house style for decades. What’s so wonderful, however, about the majority of the titles gathered together on this four-disc collection is just how un-Continental they are. A onetime cabaret performer, Lubitsch revels in broad, knockabout comic gestures in the “grotesque comedies” (per the opening titles) The Oyster Princess (1919) and The Wildcat (1921). In the former, a savage satire of wealth and privilege, a fat American multimillionaire arranges a royal wedding for his equally boorish daughter, who is prone to smashing up their opulent surroundings whether she’s angry or happy. Waited on hand and foot by, literally, armies of servants, the self-obsessed pair epitomize a European view of the American nouveau riche, while the vapid prince who comes calling proves an equally empty evening coat. The Wildcat covers wilder terrain both geographically and romantically, when a legendary ladies’ man takes up his new military post on a remote frozen frontier. Pola Negri stars as the ferocious mountain-bandit queen who catches his eye but refuses to be tamed. Lubitsch frames almost every shot through a surprising series of oddly shaped irises — ovals, ellipses, diamonds, blobs — that give the whole farcical adventure a comic-book feel, while the sets, particularly the wintry army fort, look like the fruits of a conspiracy between Dr. Seuss and Busby Berkeley. The Oyster Princess disc comes backed with the gender-bending comedy I Don’t Want to Be a Man (1920), while the other two discs feature Lubitsch in a more dramatic mode, with the historical drama Anne Boleyn (1920), starring Emil Jannings as Henry VIII, and the Arabian Nights fantasy Sumurun (1920).

—Paul Malcolm

Other recommended new releases: Little Miss Sunshine (DVD); Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies (1929–1938) (DVD); When the Levees Broke (DVD); Wicker Man: Special Edition (1975).

Also released this week: DVD: Agnes and His Brothers; The Biggest Loser Workout, Vol. 2; The Celestine Prophecy; ER: The Complete Sixth Season; Female Misbehavior; Hogan’s Heroes: The Complete Fifth Season; The Illustrated Man; Invincible; Jet Li’s Fearless; Lady in the Water; The Librarian 2: Return to King Solomon’s Mines; Married With Children: The Complete Sixth Season; My Super Ex-Girlfriend; The Promise; A Scanner Darkly; The Simpsons: The Complete Ninth Season; Step Up; Today and Tomorrow; Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Pluto, Vol. 2; Walt Disney Treasures: The Mickey Mouse Club Featuring the Hardy Boys; Walt Disney Treasures: Your Host, Walt Disney; Women’s Prison.


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