The allure of Louise Brooks
by Dan Moray
There's only one thing you need to know about G. W. Pabst's 1928 film Pandora's Box: Louise Brooks. Brooks, who snatched the title role of Lulu from Marlene Dietrich, is astounding. Her androgynous appearance, complete with pageboy haircut, is enticing and vibrantly erotic.
Brooks plays eighteen-year-old Lulu, a carefree whore with a hypnotic presence that has wealthy newspaper owner Carl Schoen spellbound. Schoen is supposed to marry another woman, but the wedding plans blow up when he and Lulu are discovered necking in a dressing room at the theater where Lulu dances. Back at his apartment, Schoen tries to convince Lulu she must kill herself to save him from shame. During the ensuing struggle, the handgun goes off, and Schoen is killed.
Lulu is sentenced to five years in prison for manslaughter. But Schoen's son Alwa who also is madly in love with her plans an escape from the courtroom. With help from her pimp/father and a trapeze artist who also is in love with her Lulu is spirited away to a series of dives on the London waterfront. After being sold to a Saudi sheik, Lulu flees with her father to a flat in a London slum. While standing on the corner there, she meets a timid loner who tells her he has no money. "That's okay," responds Lulu. "Just come with me." It turns out the loner is Jack the Ripper, and his embrace of Lulu becomes her last.
The artful styling of Pabst's direction and Brooks's playful innocence keep the story's focus on Lulu's childlike vulnerability, without turning the whole thing into a burlesque. No one in Germany could accept the idea of an American actress in the coveted role, and the censors weren't at all happy with the film's overt sexuality, either. But with her extraordinary presence, Brooks is absolutely stunning as the carefree, alabaster dream girl. Brooks is very hard to find in the movies, so you shouldn't miss this opportunity to see, in the silent era's last hurrah, one of the most alluring and fantastically beautiful actresses to ever grace the screen.
Pandora's Box is at the Michigan Theater on Saturday, June 7.
[Originally published in June, 2003.]