The Wildcat

The Wildcat ★★★★

I don't want to dissect The Wildcat, or compare it to other silent films which have been rightly placed within a canon of incomparable cinema humor prior to 1929 (when sound began to deliver the wisecracks and/or audio effects). What I'd like to mention is that Ernst Lubitsch wrote and directed this marvelous entertainment in 1921 and was smart enough or lucky enough to believe that Pola Negri could make his comedy zing somewhere on the border of romance and perversity (a great place to muck about).

I'm not a specialist in comedy, much of the genre leaves me often disappointed, and the ones I find successful often ride upon a deeper subtext--love, social class or pathos--to name a few. The Wildcat doesn't seem to care one whit about anything more substantial than making us laugh, or snort, or bellow, or titter, or guffaw--you get it. Sure, Lubitsch included subtext, one being feminism, another is the power of celebrity--but this isn't a film about anything except the joy of watching light-hearted caricatures doing physical kick-in-the-pants humor around a simple story given a bizarre treatment in locations, sets, costumes and curious lens mattes, along with a mastery of the techniques needed to make these strange stylizations into a foreign land of wonder in which nothing is very serious, not love, Nation, military codes, marriage vows, the fetishism of power, even sex, be they bandits or gentry.

Lubitsch asks us to have faith in him, then later in the first act he proves it worthwhile. By the 3rd act we've become enthralled in some of the funniest and most imaginative comedy ever filmed before sound. I'm as surprised as you may be, but it's true. This is a classic which can stand with the best of its day, or the best of the Lubitsch filmography. I personally think it's his first great work, but others may disagree. Give it a chance, let yourself be silly, strange, youthful and hedonistic. Just follow the ones with the most make-up or the kitschiest clothing; you may begin to feel like you've entered a de-saturated Wes Anderson hotel. No matter. It's still here for anyone to enjoy.

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