Pandora’s Box (1929) – Film Review
Director: Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Cast: Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner, Francis Lederer
By Sarah Morgan
Even if you’ve never seen one of her films, chances are you’ll be familiar with Louise Brooks’s image.
She was the quintessential flapper girl of the silent movie world, complete with a sharp bobbed hairstyle. A photograph of her in profile against a black backdrop clutching a string of pearls is one often used to illustrate the 1920s era.
Despite that picture being so famous, her time as a bona fide movie star was rather short. Her first starring role came in 1928’s Beggars of Life; a decade later, it was pretty much over and after dabbling in radio soap operas, she eventually retired from acting. Her life after that has been covered many times since then, and is more extraordinary than any Hollywood movie – check out her Wikipedia page for a short synopsis.
“A pretty flibbertigibbet”
Although her time in the limelight was relatively short, Brooks made a huge impact. Arguably the best – and certainly the most famous – of them is Pandora’s Box, which was made during a stint in Germany in 1929.
She said of the experience: “In Hollywood, I was a pretty flibbertigibbet whose charm for the executive department decreased with every increase in my fan mail. In Berlin I… became an actress. Everywhere I was treated with a kind of decency and respect unknown to me in Hollywood.”
Perhaps that’s why her performance is so memorable. Brooks plays Lulu (a role Marlene Dietrich had wanted to play), the young, beautiful mistress of Dr Schon, an older newspaper publisher. She’s horrified when he announces he’s going to marry someone else. However, determined to get her man, she seduces him and, after his fiancee finds them together, he agrees to wed Lulu after all.
Following an altercation during the wedding reception, Schon tries to force Lulu to kill herself. In the ensuing struggle, the gun he’s holding goes off, he ends up dead, and she finds herself sentenced to jail for manslaughter. Her father and his friend help her flee, and after various adventures, she ends up working as a prostitute in London, where she comes face-to-face with the man known as Jack the Ripper…
“Oddly moving scenes”
Beautifully shot by director GW Pabst, the film still packs a punch today, particularly the oddly moving scenes in which she seems to form a bond with the notorious murderer. Oddly, while watching, I figured out that the gap between the real Ripper murder taking place and the release of the film was, give or take a year or two, the same as the gap between now and Peter Sutcliffe’s reign of terror as the Yorkshire Ripper, ie very much in living memory.
Although largely dismissed on its initial release, Pandora’s Box was rediscovered, along with Brooks, during the 1950s and is now regarded as a classic of Weimar Germany cinema. The print used for this release is crisp and sharp, while special features offer insights into its importance, creation and star that should prove invaluable to those interested in film history.
- Limited Edition Box Set - 3000 Copies
- Limited Edition Hardcase featuring artwork by Tony Stella
- Limited Edition 60-Page Book featuring new writing on the film by critics Alexandra Heller Nicholas, Imogen Sara Smith, and Richard Combs; alongside archival stills and imagery
- 1080p HD presentation on Blu-ray from a definitive 2K digital restoration
- Optional English subtitles
- Orchestral Score by Peer Raben
- New audio commentary by critic Pamela Hutchinson
- New visual appreciation by author and critic Kat Ellinger
- New video essay by David Cairns
- New video essay by Fiona Watson