The Sunday Intertitle: Dinner for Three

“Set the table for three: we dine with death tonight!” — or words to that effect (it’s late, I’m sleepy — technically not even Sunday here anymore).

The MOMA restoration of Lubitsch’s first US film, ROSITA, starring Mary Pickford, is beautiful, as you’d expect from something with those talents as well as Charles Rosher on camera and William Cameron Menzies on sets. Also, as a Snitz Edwards completist, I’m very glad to get this one viewed (under the stars! with a live orchestra!)

Snitz isn’t the only actor in it who sounds like a Goon Show character — there’s Holbrook Blinn and Charles Belcher and Bert Sprotte, and one of the writers is Edward Knoblock. A lot of low comedy characters, you might think, and not be wholly wrong, as Lubitsch’s smutty sophistication and bawdy silliness are both on display here, along with some surprising melodrama (it’s based on an opera).

Street singer Rosita’s loud, vulgar family were just reminding me of The Simpsons when Rosita herself declared “Caramba!” in another intertitle and sealed the deal.

9 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Dinner for Three”

  1. James W Cobb Says:

    Did Pickford allow ROSITA to be released? I thought there was a Lubitsch which was withheld during his early days in the U.S. Or am I thinking of Von Sternberg and the film he made for Chaplin?

  2. Rosita has a strange history. There may have been clashes between director and star — Raoul Walsh did the reshoots. Then the film was released and was a big hit, despite the character of a fiery Spanish street singer being a departure for MP.

    But years later, Mary started referring to the film as a catastrophe that almost ruined her career. My best guess is that she had to justify to herself the fact that she went back to playing little girls afterwards, but who knows?

    Her claim to have tried to buy up and destroy every print appears to be untrue, though the film has indeed been out of circulation for years except in ratty copies. The new restoration is stunning.

  3. I saw the restoration at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. It was indeed incredible. I am generally not widely familiar with silent Lubitsch but this one strikes me as pretty good stuff.

    The figure of the King, the villain, was most interesting in how Lubitsch frames him. It’s proof of Stroheim’s famous observation, “Lubitsch shows the King on the throne and then the boudoir, I start in the boudoir”.

    And there’s a weird way how the finale of the film skirts back to his point of view despite the awful stuff he tries to get up to. I mean it’s about the nearest a Weinstein-esque figure can be empathetic these days.

  4. Silent Lubitsch is a joy. I especially treasure “Lady Windemere’s Fan” which is eloquent visually as Wilde was verbally.

  5. Lubitsch’s German silents often make gentle sex comedy out of tyrants and psychopaths from history, so this is very much his way with period drama.

    Rosita has been called the link between the German and US periods, but part of this quality is the prominence of Menzies’ sets — and Menzies was an auteur in his own right, able to warp other directors’ work into expressions of his own visual sensibility.

    Lady Windemere’s is probably the best silent American Lubitsch of them all (too bad we don’t have The Patriot, but I doubt it would be as charming).

  6. I like Lady Windermere’s Fan a lot, and I have also seen The Marriage Circle, also excellent. But the German silents I haven’t seen, nor Student Prince in Old Heidelberg.

  7. Oh, Student Prince might be my favourite, actually. The Eclipse set of German Lubitsch has terrific, inventive stuff, all really good, The Oyster Princess being a stand-out.

    I’m less in tune with his epics and his early, rambunctious star vehicles, but it’s all worth seeing.

  8. Hmm…There’s no Criterion Eclipse of Lubitsch’s German Silents as far as I am aware. The only one I know of is the one with his sound musicals

    Is there one coming in future? Or some other Eclipse.

  9. Ah, no, I’m wrong, it’s Masters of Cinema. I should have remembered because I wrote something for it.

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