Liliom is Fritz Lang's (Metropolis, Die Nibelungen) dazzling 1934 film that has until now been nearly impossible to see in the U.S. Starring Charles Boyer (Algiers, Gaslight) just before hitting major stardom in Hollywood, Liliom is a captivating noir fantasy.
Brash ne'er-do-well Liliom, played by Boyer with physical gusto and inner uncertainty, is a carnival barker until he encounters the ethereal Julie. Their spellbound union is based on her unwavering faith in him. Liliom is overjoyed to learn he will become a father, but his efforts to find money for his family end badly. When twin dark angels bring Liliom to a fantastic tribunal in the heavens, his story is contradicted by a filmed replay of his past. Years later, he is brought back for one day to do something good. An uncanny encounter with his daughter leads to a beautifully abstract resolution of his destiny.
After leaving Nazi Germany, Lang stopped in France long enough to make one film, Liliom. For this production, Lang joined his UFA producer Erich Pommer and the masterful cinematographer Rudolph Mate, who had earlier photographed Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc and Vampyr. A highly imaginative film, Liliom provides intriguing glimpses of later magical realist films from Cocteau and Powell/Pressburger, and of the surreal transcendence of Borzage, who had filmed Ferenc Molnar's play in 1930. Rodgers and Hammerstein later transformed it into the hit musical Carousel.