Pandora's Box (German: Die BÃ¼chse der Pandora) is a 1929 German silent melodrama film based on Frank Wedekind's plays Erdgeist (Earth Spirit, 1895) and Die BÃ¼chse der Pandora (1904). Directed by Austrian filmmaker Georg Wilhelm Pabst, the film stars Louise Brooks, Fritz Kortner, and Francis Lederer. Brooks' portrayal of a seductive, thoughtless young woman whose raw sexuality and uninhibited nature bring ruin to herself and those who love her, although initially unappreciated, eventually made the actress a star.
Lulu (Louise Brooks) is the mistress of a respected, middle-aged newspaper publisher, Dr. Ludwig SchÃ¶n (Fritz Kortner). One day, she is delighted when an old man, her "first patron," Schigolch (Carl Goetz), shows up at the door to her apartment. However, when SchÃ¶n also arrives, she has Schigolch hide on the terrace. SchÃ¶n breaks the news to Lulu that he is going to marry Charlotte von Zarnikow (Daisy D'ora), the daughter of the Minister of the Interior. Lulu tries to get him to change his mind, but when he discovers the disreputable-looking Schigolch, he leaves. Schigolch introduces Lulu to Rodrigo Quast (Krafft-Raschig), who wants her to join his new trapeze act.
The next day, Lulu goes to see her best friend Alwa (Francis Lederer), who happens to be SchÃ¶n's son. SchÃ¶n is greatly displeased to see her, but comes up with the idea to have her star in his son's musical production to get her off his hands. However, SchÃ¶n makes the mistake of bringing Charlotte to see the revue. When Lulu refuses to perform in front of her rival, SchÃ¶n takes her into a storage room to try to persuade her otherwise, but she seduces him instead. Charlotte finds them embracing.
A defeated SchÃ¶n resigns himself to marrying Lulu. While the wedding reception is underway, he is disgusted to find Lulu playfully cavorting with Schigolch and Quast in the bedchamber. He gets his pistol and threatens to shoot the interlopers, but Lulu cries out not to, that Shigolch is her father! Schigolch and Quast thus escape. Once they are alone, SchÃ¶n insists his new wife take the gun and shoot herself. When Lulu refuses, the gun goes off in the ensuing struggle, and SchÃ¶n is killed.
At her murder trial, Lulu is sentenced to five years for manslaughter. However, Schigolch and Quast trigger a fire alarm and spirit her away in the confusion. When Alwa finds her back in the SchÃ¶n home, he confesses his feelings for her and they decide to flee the country. Countess Augusta Geschwitz (Alice Roberts), herself infatuated with Lulu, lets the fugitive use her passport. On the train, Lulu is recognized by another passenger, Marquis Casti-Piani (Michael von Newlinsky). He offers to keep silent in return for money. He also suggests a hiding place, a ship used as an illegal gambling den.
After several months however, Casti-Piani sells Lulu to an Egyptian for his brothel, and Quast blackmails Lulu for financing for his new act. Desperate for money to pay them off, Alwa cheats at cards, but is caught at it. Lulu turns to Schigolch for help. He has Geschwitz lure Quast to a stateroom, where she murders him. Schigolch, Lulu, and Alwa then flee.
They end up living in squalor in a drafty London garrett. On Christmas Eve, driven to prostitution, Lulu has the misfortune of picking a remorseful Jack the Ripper (Gustav Diessl) as her first client. Though he protests he has no money, she likes him and invites him to her lodgings anyway. Schigolch drags Alwa away before they are seen. Jack is touched and secretly throws away his knife. Inside however, he spots another knife on the table and cannot resist his urges. Unaware of Lulu's fate, Alwa deserts her, joining a passing Salvation Army parade.
- There is no real explanation given in the film for Schigolch's relationship with Lulu, but it has been suggested he is or was her pimp. In the source plays by Frank Wedekind, Schigolch is possibly Lulu's father.
Pandora's Box had previously been adapted for the screen by ArzÃ©n von CserÃ©py in 1921 in Germany under the same title, with Asta Nielsen in the role of Lulu. As there was a musical, plays and other cinema adaptations at the time, the story of Pandora's Box was well known. This allowed Pabst to take liberties with the story.
Director G. W. Pabst searched for months for an actress to play Lulu. On seeing Brooks as a circus performer in the 1928 Howard Hawks' film A Girl in Every Port, Pabst tried to get her on loan from Paramount Pictures. His offer was not even made known to Brooks by the studio until she left Paramount over a salary dispute. Pabst's second choice was Marlene Dietrich; Dietrich was actually in Pabst's office, waiting to sign a contract to do the film, when Pabst got word of Brooks' availability. In an interview many years later, Brooks stated that Pabst was reluctant to hire Dietrich, as he felt she was too old at 27, and not a good fit for the character. Pabst himself later wrote that Dietrich was too knowing, while Brooks had both innocence and the ability to project sexuality, without coyness or premeditation.
In shooting the film, Pabst drew on Brooks' background as a dancer with the pioneering modern dance ensemble Denishawn, "choreographing" the movement in each scene, and limiting her to a single emotion per shot. Pabst was deft in manipulating his actors: he hired tango musicians to inspire Brooks between takes, coached a reluctant Alice Roberts through the lesbian sequences, and appeased Fritz Kortner, who did not hide his dislike for Brooks. During the first week or two of filming, Brooks went out partying every night with her current lover, George Preston Marshall, much to Pabst's displeasure. When Marshall left, a relieved Pabst imposed a stricter lifestyle on his star.
On December 2, 1929, The New York Times called "Pandora's Box...a disconnected melodrama ...[with] a seldom interesting" narrative. The reviewer found Brooks "attractive", but her expressions "often difficult to decide", and concluded it was "filmed far better than the story (deserved)".
The film was re-discovered by critics in the 1950s, to great acclaim. Modern critics now praise the film as one of the classics of Weimar Germany's cinema, along with The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari, Metropolis, The Last Laugh, and The Blue Angel.
Film critic Roger Ebert reviewed the film in 1998 with great praise, and remarked of Brooks' presence, "she regards us from the screen as if the screen were not there; she casts away the artifice of film and invites us to play with her". He cited the film as one on his list of The Great Movies.
The film is notable for its lesbian subplot in the attraction of Countess Augusta Geschwitz (in some prints Anna) to Lulu. The character of Geschwitz is defined by her masculine look, as she wears a tuxedo. Roberts resisted the idea of playing a lesbian.
The title is a reference to Pandora of Greek mythology, who upon opening a box given to her by the gods released all evils into the world, leaving only hope behind. This connection is made explicitly by the prosecutor in the trial scene.
In France, the film was significantly re-edited, making Alwa's secretary and the countess become Lulu's childhood friend. Lulu is found to be not guilty at her trial, and there is no Jack the Ripper character, as the film ends with Lulu joining the Salvation Army.
In the United Kingdom, Pandora's Box was released on DVD on June 24, 2002 by Second Sight Films.
In North America, Pandora's Box was released on a two disc DVD set on November 28, 2006 by the Criterion Collection. Four soundtracks were commissioned for the film's DVD release: an approximation of the score cinema audiences might have heard with a live orchestra, a Weimar Republic-era cabaret score, a modern orchestral interpretation, and an improvisational piano score.
- List of German films 1919â"1933
- Pandora's Box at the Internet Movie Database
- Pandora's Box at the TCM Movie Database
- Pandora's Box at SilentEra
- Pandora's Box at AllMovie
- Pandora's Box at Rotten Tomatoes
- Hoberman, J. "Opening Pandora's Box", Criterion Collection essay
- Full plot summary and cast & crew biographies.