Cast & Crew
Liliom Ladowski, the rakish and charming barker at Madame Muscat's traveling carnival, attracts large numbers of admiring young females to the merry-go-round where he sells tickets. Hollinger, a rival barker, attempts to get Liliom into trouble by telling jealous Mme. Muscat, who is having an affair with Liliom, that he is flirting with two pretty customers, Julie and her friend Marie. Furious when Liliom teases him in front of the patrons, Hollinger pulls a knife on him and picks a fight, which Liliom easily wins to the applause of his admirers. Mme. Muscat then insults Julie and Marie, but Liliom comes to their defense and, threatening Mme. Muscat with a raised hand, demands that she apologize. Mme. Muscat promptly fires Liliom, and after he makes a date with Julie and Marie, Liliom leaves the carnival. When he meets the two young women later that evening, Liliom callously informs them that he intends to take only one of them out, whereupon Marie reluctantly leaves him the innocent Julie, who has just lost her job as a housemaid because she lingered too long at the carnival. Although the police warn Julie that Liliom is a lady-killer who will charm her out of her money and then leave her, Julie, who is hopelessly infatuated with Liliom, refuses their help. Sometime later, Liliom is living with Julie in the run-down trailer home of Julie's aunt, the kindly Mme. Hollunder. While Julie works in the photo studio run by Mme. Hollunder, Liliom spends his days loafing and his evenings drinking and carousing. Julie is frightened of Liliom's temper tantrums, during which he frequently slaps her, but she remains steadfastly loyal to him, believing him to have the spirit of an artist, and refuses the entreaties of a dull shopkeeper who is infatuated with her. Later, Mme. Muscat tries to lure Liliom back to the carnival by offering him a substantial raise. Tempted, Liliom considers leaving Julie until she shyly blurts out that she is expecting a child. Ecstatic at the prospect of becoming a father and desperate to earn some money quickly, he foolishly plans the robbery of a payroll truck with his cohort Alfred. On the night of the robbery, a suspicious Julie begs Liliom not to leave the house, but he grabs a knife and ignores her pleas. After meeting Alfred at the appointed time and place, Liliom feels pity for a poor, itinerant knife sharpener passing by and has second thoughts about carrying out the crime. However, it is too late, as the payroll clerk appears, and Liliom and Alfred spring into action. The robbery attempt is foiled when the clerk pulls a gun; Liliom attempts to escape, but, trapped by police in an alleyway, he decides to kill himself with the knife rather than surrender. Unconscious, Liliom is brought home on a stretcher, and dying, he repents, telling the sobbing Julie that he must face the judgement of God. As Liliom's soul rises from his body, two uniformed agents appear, identifying themselves as "God's Police," and order Liliom to follow them. On the way to Heaven, Liliom sees angels cleaning stars with huge sponges and, much to his surprise, spies the knife sharpener, who, he learns, is his guardian angel. Liliom and his guards reach Heaven, and he is taken to a special section for suicides and questioned by an officious angel-clerk, in a manner reminiscent of an earlier visit to a bureaucratic police station on Earth. When Liliom refuses to explain the reasons he continually hit Julie, the angel shows him first a silent film of one of his violent arguments with her and then the same film with a soundtrack of his thoughts. Liliom now realizes that he beat Julie because he hated himself so much for his cruelty and selfishness. The angel sentences Liliom to sixteen years in purgatory, so that he will be cleansed of his pride and violence; after this, he will be allowed one day back on Earth to visit his child, and his behavior on that day will determine where he shall spend eternity. The long-awaited day arrives, and Liliom is told before descending to Earth that his child is a daughter named Louise. One of the angels reminds Liliom to bring his daughter something beautiful, and Liliom surreptitiously steals a star on his way down. Approaching Louise, Liliom tells her that he knew her many years ago, and Louise talks about her father, saying that he was a wonderful and loving man who died in America. Liliom replies with the truth that her father was a callous brute, and Louise, upset and angry, refuses the gift of the star by throwing it into the gutter. Liliom follows the sobbing Louise home, and when she demands that he leave her alone, he slaps her hand out of frustration before disappearing. As Liliom makes his way back to Heaven, the angels sadly watch as the scales of justice tip toward the devil's side, and the devil begins to inscribe Liliom's name on his tablet. In Heaven, the angel-clerk is furious at Liliom for breaking the heart of a child, and Liliom responds that one can only love him as he is. Just then an angel-typist excitedly points to a scene happening down on Earth. Louise, her tears dried and with a look of understanding on her face, asks her mother if it is possible to receive a slap that doesn't hurt at all. Julie answers "yes," and mother and daughter embrace with tears in their eyes, as the scales of justice tip toward the right side, and Liliom's name is slowly effaced from the devil's tablet.
J. P. Feydeau
There were several film versions of Liliom made in Europe and the U.S., including a 1919 Hungarian silent directed by Michael Curtiz that was never finished because Curtiz abruptly left Hungary for political reasons. One early film adaptation was American, made in 1930 by the great romantic director Frank Borzage. It starred Charles Farrell and Rose Hobart, and featured that director's lush visual style. Fritz Lang's 1934 version of Liliom, made in France, is less sentimental than both the play and Borzage's film. Comic and tender-hearted, it is also an anomaly in Lang's career and style.
Born in Vienna, Lang had built a notable career in Germany with a wide variety of impressive films, including the five-hour heroic epic Die Nibelungen (1924), the science fiction classic Metropolis (1927) and his first sound film, the 1931 thriller M, starring a young Peter Lorre as a creepy child killer. But as the Nazis rose to power, it became clear that Lang, whose mother was Jewish, would have to leave Germany. He did so in 1934, later embellishing a dramatic story that he fled just before the Gestapo planned to arrest him. Lang's first stop was Paris, where he made his only French film, Liliom, for German producer and fellow exile Erich Pommer.
According to Lang biographer Patrick McGilligan, Pommer offered Lang a choice of two projects: Liliom and a detective story. The latter would seem to be a better fit based on Lang's European successes. But Lang chose the supernatural romance (the thriller, Man Stolen, was directed by Max Ophuls, who became known for his romantic dramas). Lang's decision turned out be a wise one, and he proved skillful in his handling of Liliom's turbulent nature and the problematic love story, as well as in the pacing of a script that includes comedy, romance and fantasy as well as melodrama.
Lang also drew a multifaceted performance from Charles Boyer, whose good looks, bedroom eyes and seductive voice inevitably led him to be typecast in romantic roles. There's plenty of romance in Liliom, but the film is robust, earthy, humorous and ultimately poignant, and Boyer is far from the clichéd continental "come with me to the Casbah" seducer that came to define his screen image. It was not until Boyer aged out of those Latin Lover roles that he was able to show once again his skill and versatility as one of the great actors of international cinema. In Liliom, Boyer manages to be both affecting and swaggering as the character requires, in spite of an unflattering, tightly-curled hairdo and too much eye makeup. Lang is at the top of his game, managing to imbue both the fantasy sequences and the realist ones with visual and emotional resonance.
Boyer's costar Madeleine Ozeray was a well-respected stage actress with the theater company of Louis Jouvet. She earned some success with prestige films in France in the mid-1930s but focused more on theater thereafter, particularly in the works of playwright Jean Girardoux. Ozeray returned to the screen in the 1970s, playing character roles in several French films of that era.
Polish-born cinematographer Rudolph Maté had begun his career as an assistant cameraman for director Alexander Korda and had shot several of Carl Theodor Dreyer's most important films, including 1928's The Passion of Joan of Arc. Maté went on to great success as a cinematographer in Hollywood, earning five Academy Award nominations for his work. Beginning in the late 1940s, he became a director of less prestigious but popular films.
Lang, of course, had an illustrious career in Hollywood. His most highly-regarded films were powerful dramas such as Fury (1936) and You Only Live Once (1937), and tough-as-nails thrillers like Scarlet Street (1945) and The Big Heat (1953). But in a 1965 interview with film historian and future director Peter Bogdanovich, Lang mused about the reasons Liliom failed at the box office and expressed his enduring fondness for the film. "It was shown in a French movie house and the audience went along with the picture in a way you can only hope for, but the moment it started to be comic--when the heavenly messengers brought Liliom into heaven--they turned against it. I made the heaven, I think, very funny...But the audience--because they really felt with Liliom and his wife--wanted to have a drama and suddenly they found a tragicomedy. I liked it." Near the end of his life, he told students at the American Film Institute the same thing: "LiliomI always liked very much. Today I almost like Liliom best of all."
Director: Fritz Lang
Producer: Erich Pommer
Screenplay: Robert Liebmann
Cinematography: Rudolf Mate, Louis Nee
Costume Design: Rene Hubert
Art Direction: Andre Daven
Music: Jean Lenoir, Franz Waxman
Principal Cast: Charles Boyer (Liliom Zadowski), Madeleine Ozeray (Julie), Robert Arnoux (Strong Arm), Roland Toutain (Sailor), Alexandre Rignault (Hollinger), Henri Richard (the Commissioner), Antonin Artaud (the Knife Grinder), Florelle (Mme. Moscat),
by Margarita Landazuri
An English language adaptation of Ferenc Molnar's play opened in New York on April 20, 1921 and starred Joseph Schildkraut and Eva LaGallienne. According to a Current Biography article dated June 1943, director Fritz Lang, while editing his 1933 German film, Das Testament der Dr. Mabuse, was visited by Joseph Goebbels, the head of the propaganda ministry under the new government of chancellor Adolf Hitler, and asked to become the leader of the German filmmakers. Lang listened respectfully and arranged to meet Goebbels the next day, but that night, Lang, a believer in democratic government, fled to Paris, leaving a fortune in the bank and a collection of primitive art and art objects. In Paris, Erich Pommer, who had produced a number of Lang's German films, hired him to make Liliom. Pommer, according to a 1940 article in Script and studio biographical material at the AMPAS Library, had also left Germany after he was asked to head studio activities in the Greater Reich. He refused and resigned from Ufa, after which Sidney Kent, the president of Fox, hired Pommer to be the head of a European Fox production setup, with production centers in Paris and London. Although Pommer produced two films at the Fox studio in Paris, On a volé un homme, which was directed by Max Ophuls, and Liliom, the devaluation of the dollar by President Franklin Roosevelt made it financially impossible for Fox to carry out its European program, and Pommer subsequently came to the U.S. and became a producer with Fox. (The Ophuls film was not released in the U.S.)
According to Variety, the film was budgeted at $100,000 but actually cost $400,000 to produce. Variety blames the failure of the film in Europe as the reason that Fox stopped producing films there. The running time of the film was 120 minutes when it opened in Paris, but was cut to 86 or 90 minutes for the American release. Variety called Charles Boyer's performance "one of the best characterizations of his career," and according to modern sources, Boyer called this his favorite role. Modern sources also note that this film was shot at Studio des Reservoirs, St. Maurice, Paris in a total of fifty-seven days, between December 1933 and February 1934, and that the music was recorded at Theatre des Champs Elysées with the Straram symphony orchestra. The negative of the film, according to a Hollywood Reporter article in 1967, was destroyed in a fire at Normandie in World War II. Modern sources credit Gilbert Mandelik as second assistant director and list Rosa Valetti and Lily Latté as additional cast members. In 1921, the year the play opened on Broadway, Metro Pictures produced a film based on it entitled A Trip to Paradise, which was directed by Maxwell Karger and starred Bert Lytell and Virginia Valli; Fox's 1930 production of Liliom was directed by Frank Borzage and starred Charles Farrell and Rose Hobart. A musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II entitled Carousel, based on the play, opened on Broadway on April 19, 1945, and starred John Raitt and January Clayton. Twentieth Century-Fox produced a film version of the musical in 1956, which was directed by Henry King and starred Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones. A television version of the musical produced by Armstrong Circle Theatre was broadcast in 1967 over NBC; it was directed by Paul Bogart and starred Robert Goulet and Mary Grover.