Starring: Louise Brooks, Francis Lederer, Carl Götz
Director: G.W. Pabst
Running Time: 133 mins
Pandora’s Box (Die Büchse der Pandora) is a German film about a beautiful young woman whose bewitching looks and promiscuous behaviour ultimately causes her downfall, and the ruin of all those who fall under her spell.
One of the classics of the the golden age of silent cinema in Germany, Pandora’s Box is a sleek, charismatic example of scandalous pre-Code storytelling with a dynamite lead performance from Louise Brooks. At over two hours, it’s a little long for its own good, but it’s undeniably an icon of a bygone era.
Let’s start with the one thing that always worries me, and I’m guessing many others, about silent movies. Yes, this isn’t the fast-paced, snappy drama that ‘talkies’ have the luxury of being, as Pandora’s Box has to spend a lot more time spelling out more simple ideas and plot points that can normally be covered with a major dialogue sequence.
As a result, the film is split into eight ‘acts’, each of which focus on a different twist in the tale of our main character Lulu’s bewitching beauty. That’s why Pandora’s Box can feel almost overlong from a modern perspective, but that doesn’t mean it’s a dull watch.
While perhaps not as scandalous as films like L’Age D’Or, Pandora’s Box is an interesting example of just how free-willed filmmaking could be in the years before the highly moral Hollywood Production Code came to influence cinema all over the world.
Although not quite a typical femme fatale, Louise Brooks plays a woman whose powers of seduction are such that no man can resist her in any way, and it almost seems as if she doesn’t know what she’s doing to them. That depends on who her ‘victim’ is, but she too suffers from her seductive ways.
And that’s the crux of what makes this film interesting. Developing from a life in the high society of Weimar Germany, Lulu’s downfall along with those that fall in love with her is really rather regrettable, as her outlandish behaviour constantly brings her a step down in life, ultimately ending up a world away from where she started out.
That sombre note of drama makes the film a captivating watch throughout, bolstered by the epic and irresistible style of pre-Depression 1920s excess and glamour.
Brooks is fantastic in the lead role, both lovable and almost unsettlingly beautiful, while the male co-stars that revolve around her too bring strong emotional depth to the table throughout.
Overall, then, Pandora’s Box is a genuinely engaging watch at its best, although it struggles to keep itself at that high level throughout on account of its long runtime and overly drawn-out ‘acts’. Still, it’s an iconic film filled with style and drama, which makes it an irresistible watch. So, that’s why I’m giving Pandora’s Box a 7.3.