Cluny Brown


1h 40m 1946
Cluny Brown

Brief Synopsis

A servant girl's passion for plumbing shocks London society.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Drama
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jun 1946
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 3 Jun 1946; Los Angeles opening: 12 Jun 1946
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp (Boston, 1944).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 40m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,100ft (10 reels)

Synopsis

On a Sunday afternoon in London in June of 1938, Mr. Hilary Ames frets because he has been unable to get a plumber to fix a stopped-up sink, and it is now one-half hour before his planned cocktail party. When a stranger, Adam Belinski, arrives, Ames mistakes him for a plumber, but Adam quickly informs him that he came to borrow money from an absent friend from whom Ames is subletting. The attractive Cluny Brown then arrives, announcing that she is the niece of a plumber Ames had called, who is unavailable at the moment, and that she would like to have a try at fixing the sink. As she works, she complains to Adam that her uncle Arn always rebukes her for not knowing her place. Adam replies that one's place is wherever one is happy, and that happiness is a personal adjustment to environment, even if it is as radical as "feeding squirrels to the nuts." After the drain is fixed, Cluny celebrates by accepting Adam's offer of cocktails. When Uncle Arn then arrives and finds Cluny drunk, he indignantly informs her that she is going into service as a domestic. After they leave, Adam pockets the payment that Arn refused. Later, during the party, Adam passes out drunk, and awakens to discover Andrew Carmel, the naïve scion of a wealthy family, looking at him in awe. Andrew explains to Betty Cream, a blasé socialite with whom he is in love, that Adam is a great Czech professor and writer, and one of Hitler's worst enemies. When Adam, who is facing eviction for non-payment of rent, mentions that he is a man without a home, Andrew, thinking that Adam means that he is a political refugee, takes pity, gives him some money and invites him for a drink. Soon after, Cluny goes to work as a parlor-maid at the Carmel's country manor and is invited for tea by the Carmels, Andrew's parents, Henry and Alice, when she is mistaken for a guest of their neighbor. After they learn that she is their new maid, they politely but abruptly leave her to the butler, Mr. Syrett, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Maile, who instruct her as to the proper etiquette of a servant. Meanwhile, Andrew has arranged for Adam to be a house guest at the manor, as he fears Adam is in danger from the Nazis in London, while he, Andrew, returns to London to pursue the flighty Betty. That night, when Cluny serves dinner, she drops the tray upon seeing Adam and exclaims "squirrels to the nuts!" Although the Carmels want to dismiss Cluny for her unseemly behavior, Adam talks them out of it. Afterward, a tearful Cluny is comforted by Adam's declaration that he, too, feels out of place there, and Cluny then gratefully embraces him and vows undying friendship. Cluny soon becomes enthralled with the prospect of becoming the wife of the town's pompous chemist, Jonathan W. Wilson, who lives with his disagreeable mother. Cluny confides to the crestfallen Adam, who harbors romantic feelings for her, that as an orphan, she hopes to find her place in life as Wilson's wife. Soon after, Andrew arrives at the manor after a row with Betty only to find that she has been invited for the weekend by his mother. During Mrs. Wilson's birthday celebration that evening, Wilson is about to announce his engagement to Cluny, when awful sounds emerge from the bathroom, and Cluny impulsively offers to fix the pipes. Mrs. Wilson and her guests are aghast at Cluny's behavior, and once they are alone, Wilson rebukes her. Later that night, Adam enters Betty's bedroom in his dressing gown, ostensibly to plead Andrew's case. Betty, sensing Adam's desire, orders him to leave, and when he refuses, she screams nonchalantly and continues to read her book. Andrew is incensed to see Adam leave Betty's room, but when Adam says he mistook her door for the bathroom, Betty corroborates his story and claims that she thought he was a burglar. Lady Carmel then has a talk with Betty, who admits that she plans to marry Andrew and agrees to finally tell him so. The next day, Henry tells Adam that Andrew has grown into a man overnight, and that he plans to join the R.A.F. because of some man named Hitler. After Adam explains who Hitler is, Henry is filled with fatherly pride. When Betty announces that she and Andrew are engaged, Adam, who now plans to leave, offers congratulations, but Andrew, not believing his story of the previous evening, challenges him to a fight. Betty forestalls the brawl, however, by informing Andrew that they owe their engagement to Adam's impetuous behavior. Before leaving, Adam learns that Cluny is not feeling well and so asks Mrs. Maile to deliver his farewell gift to her. Cluny pursues Adam to the train to thank him, and when she relates her disgrace at Mrs. Wilson's birthday party and renounces her foolish behavior, Adam orders her onto the train, and once inside, he throws her servant's cap and apron out the window. He then proposes, and to support his new wife, Adam revises his plans to write a book on morality and expediency, but instead moves to New York and authors a series of murder mysteries which become best sellers.

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Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Drama
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jun 1946
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 3 Jun 1946; Los Angeles opening: 12 Jun 1946
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp (Boston, 1944).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 40m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,100ft (10 reels)

Articles

Cluny Brown


Both American and European moviegoers were familiar with the legendary "Lubitsch touch" by the time Ernst Lubitsch directed Cluny Brown (1947), a comedy of manners often considered his final feature (he never finished That Lady in Ermine (1948) which was completed by Otto Preminger). But Lubitsch's satirical targets in Cluny Brown are pre-war British aristocrats who, safely ensconced in their comfortable country homes, know little about the conflict brewing in Europe, outside of the fact that it was started by "an Austrian." It's not surprising, then, that Americans embraced the picture more enthusiastically than the Brits ever did, although it is surprising just how much it upset some British critics.

Based on a popular 1944 novel by Margery Sharp, Cluny Brown's narrative feels more like an extended comic situation than a conventional plot. Jennifer Jones plays the title character, a young woman who, as the film opens, fixes a clogged sink for a well-to-do London family while her plumber uncle is away. Shortly thereafter, Cluny is discovered having drinks with Adam Belinski (Charles Boyer), a Czech writer who's visiting the household. Later, in an attempt to climb the social ladder, Cluny becomes a maid at a country home...and once again meets up with Belinski. She then has to decide whether to follow her heart and enter into a romance with the writer, or pair up with the stuffy owner of the estate (Richard Haydn.)

When Lubitsch handed the script adaptation to Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck, there was very little need for revisions. Although Zanuck was known for the copious notes he took upon reading a screenplay, he really only suggested a few minor line re-writes. This undoubtedly pleased Lubitsch, who once again had been having heart problems during pre-production, and didn't need extra stress. He was finally cleared by his doctors to begin filming Cluny Brown in November, 1945, and the shoot began that December.

Jones, who appeared in the pious The Song of Bernadette (1943) for Fox, must have felt right at home during filming. The set for Cluny Brown was the same one used on Bernadette, albeit re-modeled by Lyle Wheeler and J. Russell Spencer to look English instead of French. Jones, who could be emotionally high-strung at times, still managed to cause some commotion during the shoot. She preferred to communicate with Zanuck solely through production manager Ray Klune. Lubitsch was occasionally exasperated by this, but still seemed to take it all in stride.

Cluny Brown was not a big commercial hit but at least it recouped its investment. Most American critics were kind to it, reveling in what would prove to be their final chance to experience Lubitsch's sensibilities as a filmmaker; the director would eventually die from a string of heart attacks without ever making another film.

Across the pond, however, the reviews were ugly. The Sunday Express suggested Cluny Brown was like "kippers fried in cream, an anchovy laid across a strawberry ice...complete and awful wrong-headedness." Given the relative lightness of the picture, that type of review seems above and beyond the call of criticism. But the British didn't like to be mocked, what with having recently survived one of the worst wars in their history.

It's telling that Lubitsch himself didn't seem to care about the vitriol, but one of his British actors, C. Aubrey Smith, actually saw fit to apologize to everyone back home, and even suggested that a British filmmaker should make "an inaccurate film set in America." If anyone ever accepted the challenge, it certainly wasn't announced to the press as payback.

Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Producer: Ernst Lubitsch
Screenplay: Samuel Hoffenstein, Elizabeth Reinhardt (based on the novel by Margery Sharp)
Editor: Dorothy Spencer
Cinematographer: Joseph LaShelle
Music: Cyril J. Mockridge
Art Designer: Lyle Wheeler, J. Russell Spencer
Set Designer: Thomas Little, Paul S. Fox
Cast: Charles Boyer (Adam Belinski), Jennifer Jones (Cluny Brown), Peter Lawford (Andrew Carmel), Helen Walker (Betty Cream), Reginald Gardiner (Hilary Ames), Reginald Owen (Sir Henry Carmel), C. Aubrey Smith (Col. Duff-Graham), Richard Haydn (Wilson), Margaret Bannerman (Lady Alice Carmel), Sara Allgood (Mrs. Maile), Ernest Cossart (Syrette).
B&W-100m.

by Paul Tatara
Cluny Brown

Cluny Brown

Both American and European moviegoers were familiar with the legendary "Lubitsch touch" by the time Ernst Lubitsch directed Cluny Brown (1947), a comedy of manners often considered his final feature (he never finished That Lady in Ermine (1948) which was completed by Otto Preminger). But Lubitsch's satirical targets in Cluny Brown are pre-war British aristocrats who, safely ensconced in their comfortable country homes, know little about the conflict brewing in Europe, outside of the fact that it was started by "an Austrian." It's not surprising, then, that Americans embraced the picture more enthusiastically than the Brits ever did, although it is surprising just how much it upset some British critics. Based on a popular 1944 novel by Margery Sharp, Cluny Brown's narrative feels more like an extended comic situation than a conventional plot. Jennifer Jones plays the title character, a young woman who, as the film opens, fixes a clogged sink for a well-to-do London family while her plumber uncle is away. Shortly thereafter, Cluny is discovered having drinks with Adam Belinski (Charles Boyer), a Czech writer who's visiting the household. Later, in an attempt to climb the social ladder, Cluny becomes a maid at a country home...and once again meets up with Belinski. She then has to decide whether to follow her heart and enter into a romance with the writer, or pair up with the stuffy owner of the estate (Richard Haydn.) When Lubitsch handed the script adaptation to Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck, there was very little need for revisions. Although Zanuck was known for the copious notes he took upon reading a screenplay, he really only suggested a few minor line re-writes. This undoubtedly pleased Lubitsch, who once again had been having heart problems during pre-production, and didn't need extra stress. He was finally cleared by his doctors to begin filming Cluny Brown in November, 1945, and the shoot began that December. Jones, who appeared in the pious The Song of Bernadette (1943) for Fox, must have felt right at home during filming. The set for Cluny Brown was the same one used on Bernadette, albeit re-modeled by Lyle Wheeler and J. Russell Spencer to look English instead of French. Jones, who could be emotionally high-strung at times, still managed to cause some commotion during the shoot. She preferred to communicate with Zanuck solely through production manager Ray Klune. Lubitsch was occasionally exasperated by this, but still seemed to take it all in stride. Cluny Brown was not a big commercial hit but at least it recouped its investment. Most American critics were kind to it, reveling in what would prove to be their final chance to experience Lubitsch's sensibilities as a filmmaker; the director would eventually die from a string of heart attacks without ever making another film. Across the pond, however, the reviews were ugly. The Sunday Express suggested Cluny Brown was like "kippers fried in cream, an anchovy laid across a strawberry ice...complete and awful wrong-headedness." Given the relative lightness of the picture, that type of review seems above and beyond the call of criticism. But the British didn't like to be mocked, what with having recently survived one of the worst wars in their history. It's telling that Lubitsch himself didn't seem to care about the vitriol, but one of his British actors, C. Aubrey Smith, actually saw fit to apologize to everyone back home, and even suggested that a British filmmaker should make "an inaccurate film set in America." If anyone ever accepted the challenge, it certainly wasn't announced to the press as payback. Director: Ernst Lubitsch Producer: Ernst Lubitsch Screenplay: Samuel Hoffenstein, Elizabeth Reinhardt (based on the novel by Margery Sharp) Editor: Dorothy Spencer Cinematographer: Joseph LaShelle Music: Cyril J. Mockridge Art Designer: Lyle Wheeler, J. Russell Spencer Set Designer: Thomas Little, Paul S. Fox Cast: Charles Boyer (Adam Belinski), Jennifer Jones (Cluny Brown), Peter Lawford (Andrew Carmel), Helen Walker (Betty Cream), Reginald Gardiner (Hilary Ames), Reginald Owen (Sir Henry Carmel), C. Aubrey Smith (Col. Duff-Graham), Richard Haydn (Wilson), Margaret Bannerman (Lady Alice Carmel), Sara Allgood (Mrs. Maile), Ernest Cossart (Syrette). B&W-100m. by Paul Tatara

Quotes

Relieve the drain, relieve the strain.
- Hilary Ames
In Hyde Park, some people like to feed nuts to the squirrels. But if it makes you happy to feed squirrels to the nuts, who am I to say nuts to the squirrels?
- Adam Belinski
So many of these foreigners have foreign names.
- Lord Carmel

Trivia

Notes

The film's opening title card reads: "Ernst Lubitsch's production of Cluny Brown." The film opens with the following written prologue: "There was nothing important going on in London on a quiet Sunday afternoon in June 1938. The most exciting event of the day was Mr. Hilary Ames's cocktail party and even that was exciting only to Mr. Ames." Margery Sharp's novel was first published in Ladies Home Journal between July and September 1944. According to studio publicity materials contained in the file on othe film in the AMPAS Library, Darryl F. Zanuck and Lubitsch purchased the rights to Sharp's novel prior to its publication. According to materials contained in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, James Hilton worked on several treatments and a screenplay for the project from July-December 1944.
       Although a June 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that RKO was to loan out Rita Corday for a role, she is not in the film. An April 1945 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that John Cromwell was originally slated to direct the picture, but after the project was delayed due to Jennifer Jones's appearance in Duel in the Sun (see below), Lubitsch, who was only the producer at the time, stepped in to direct. Cluny Brown marked Jones's first assignment at Twentieth Century-Fox under a joint agreement between Selznick and Fox, and also marked her first comedic role. For additional information about Jones's agreement with Selznick and Fox, please for Laura. Although the SAB notes that the film was completed on April 1, 1946, the last Hollywood Reporter production chart listing appeared on February 8, 1946, when shooting production was suspended for two days due to Lubitsch's bout with the flu. Peter Lawford, Reginald Owen and Richard Haydn were all borrowed from M-G-M to appear in the picture. According to a modern source, the village scenes utilized a redressed set from The Song Of Bernadette (see below). On January 27, 1947, Lux Radio Theatre broadcast a radio version of Sharp's story, starring Olivia De Havilland and Charles Boyer. Screen Directors' Playhouse also broadcast a radio version of the story on November 23, 1950.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer June 1946

Released in United States Summer June 1946