Cluny Brown ★★★★½

A tantalizingly witty, earthy combination of Lubitsch's socially incisive comedies like Trouble in Paradise and To Be or Not to Be with his more frothy and romantic material (the Chevalier pictures, Design for Living), this truly delightful Fox comedy gains a lot from one of the best, most well-structured scripts in Hollywood comedy, by Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt from Margery Sharp's novel. Set in 1938 London on the cusp of the war and capturing almost agelessly the attitudes of the worldly-privileged toward impending disaster as contrasted to those with much more to lose, the film serves equally as sharp satire and warm domestic comedy a la Holiday, decrying the social mores of "high society" in a surprisingly forceful manner. (The early scene in which Cluny is treated with respect by her future employers before they realize she is "the help" is sharp, uncompromised and heartbreaking.) I cannot think of a script that juggles so many characters and manages to paint them all so vividly. The only problem is that Jennifer Jones is slightly miscast; she does well enough thanks to exquisite writing but isn't the perfect match for the part that the other characters are, and not to sound like a stuffy pharmacist but the makeup Ben Nye cakes onto her is ghastly. But this is a film of episodes, and nearly all of them are wonderful, from the opening plumbing disaster to the finale when -- after a hundred minutes of uninterrupted laughter -- Charles Boyer says a few words about busted pipes and suddenly we're all tearing up. Best of all may be Cluny's terrifying encounter with "respectability" at a potential mother-in-law's birthday party. I'm surprised this isn't more famous now; its progressive messaging, fused with the humanist hopefulness of Preston Sturges' better works (Christmas in July, for instance), makes it a fascinating as well as delectable watch today, and don't tell anyone but I believe its exploration of class is more realistic, nuanced and audacious than that of Ruggles of Red Gap or even most of Renoir's films (with the exception of The Crime of Monsieur Lange). This is on Filmstruck currently; watch it!!