Cluny Brown (1947): Lubitsch’s Last Film, Social Satire, Starring Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones

From Our Vaults:

Ernst Lubitsch produced and directed Cluny Brown, a social satire penned by Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt, based on Margery Sharp’s 1944 novel.

Starring Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones, the film is a satire on the phoniness and smugness of British high society.

Sadly, this delightfully delectable comedy of manners became Lubitsch’s last completed movie before his untimely death in 1947.

In 1938 London, Cluny Brown meets Adam Belinski while fixing a plumbing issue at Mr. Ames’ and the two strike a chord.

Later, at a party at Ames’, the self-obsessed Betty Cream is pursued by two young men: Andrew Carmel and John Frewen. Cream stumbles upon a sleeping Belinski, whom the men recognize as the prominent anti-Nazi author Professor Adam Belinski. Andrew offers to allow Belinski to stay at his family’s residence outside London while Andrew leaves for London.

Much to her displeasure, Brown’s uncle (and guardian), disapproving of her unladylike behavior, sends her to work as the parlor maid for Andrew’s family (headed by Sir Henry Carmel and Lady Carmel).

Upon arrival, Brown is put under the contemptuous eyes of housekeeper Mrs. Maile and Syrette. At dinner, Brown is surprised to see Belinski. After dinner, Belinski is shown to a room with a nightingale under the window.

When Belinski meets Brown, they realize they are out of place at the Carmels’ and make a pact to be platonic friends, even though Belinski is interested in her.

Brown tells Belinski that she has been invited by chemist Jonathan Wilson to meet his mother. At Wilson’s, Brown is amazed by Wilson’s mannerisms and skills.

Meanwhile, Belinski rings Wilson’s doorbell and disappears. After the meeting, Belinski finds Wilson and acknowledges that he is a good man for Brown. Belinski tries to dissuade Brown from engaging with Wilson but she misinterprets his words and becomes more smitten with him.

Andrew returns after a row with Cream in London the previous day and is thus shocked to find that Cream is a guest at their residence. Belinski persuades Cream to let Brown, her personal maid, off the rest of the evening so she may attend Mrs. Wilson’s birthday party, where Wilson may announce his engagement to Brown. When something goes awry with the plumbing. Brown offers to help and starts banging, startling the Wilsons and the guests. Though she succeeds, Mrs. Wilson retires for the night and the guests leave; Mr. Wilson is exasperated.

Belinski enters Cream’s bedroom, asking her to be nicer to Andrew, but Cream believes Belinski is trying to seduce her and screams. A furious Andrew tries to confront Belinski but Lady Carmel persuades him to sleep.

Cream tells Lady Carmel that she intends to marry Andrew the next morning. Andrew decides to settle the score with a fight, but if there is one, it is not shown and the result is unclear.

Brown falls ill and Belinski inexplicably announces his departure. He asks Maile to give her his parting present and wishes Brown well with Mr. Wilson. Just as Belinski leaves, Brown rushes out and catches up with him at the train station. She reveals that while Mr. Wilson was disappointed by her behavior, he will ask his mother to give her another chance. However, Belinski ushers her onto the train. He professes his love to her, promising that to support both of them, he will write a best-selling murder mystery. They embrace and kiss.

In the last, happy scene, the window of the Fifth Avenue Bookstore displays copies of Belinski’s novels “The Nightingale Murder” and “The Nightingale Strikes Again!”

The movie is in the best Lubitsch tradition of subtle and punchy comedies, with wit and bite.

Recycling: Radio adaptation
Cluny Brown was presented on Star Playhouse on November 15, 1953, with Celeste Holm.

Charles Boyer as Adam Belinski
Jennifer Jones as Cluny Brown
Peter Lawford as Andrew Carmel
Helen Walker as Betty Cream
Reginald Gardiner as Hilary Ames
Reginald Owen as Sir Henry Carmel
C. Aubrey Smith as Colonel Charles Duff Graham
Richard Haydn as Jonathan Wilson
Margaret Bannerman as Lady Alice Carmel
Sara Allgood as Mrs. Maile
Ernest Cossart as Syrette
Florence Bates as Dowager at Ames’ Party
Una O’Connor as Mrs. Wilson


TCM showed this comedy on December 7, 2021.