Career Women in the Land of Lubitsch

Inside Criterion / Sneak Peeks — Sep 17, 2019


With his last completed film, the sly, suggestive comedy of manners Cluny Brown, Ernst Lubitsch brought to the screen one of the most irrepressible, irresistible Hollywood heroines of the forties. The niece of a plumber in a Britain on the brink of World War II, the film’s title character (Jennifer Jones) exhibits an enthusiasm (not to mention talent) for her uncle’s trade that refuses to be contained, even as he sends her off to work as a parlormaid, in order to initiate her into a ladylike subservience more befitting of her station. Among the supplements on our brand-new edition of Cluny Brown is a conversation between Molly Haskell and Farran Smith Nehme in which the two critics gamely plumb the significance of the free-spirited protagonist. In the above clip from the piece, Haskell notes how rare such a “woman with a métier” was in the cinema of the time, while Nehme situates Cluny, who wins the affections of Charles Boyer’s Czech refugee, in Lubitsch’s long line of highly idiosyncratic—yet eminently lovable—career women, also including The Shop Around the Corner’s Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) and To Be or Not to Be’s Maria Tura (Carole Lombard).