The Inspector and the Prince
  • The Inspector and the Prince

In the past year, the University of Chicago Film Studies Center has played host to many of the city’s finest film revivals and film-related events. This week brings two more great programs to the center—admission is free for both. On Thursday at 7 PM Three Women (1924), one of director Ernst Lubitsch’s first Hollywood productions, will screen from a rare 35-millimeter print. (U. of C. professor Tom Gunning, a brilliant historian and unfailingly enthusiastic lecturer, will introduce the screening, and longtime accompanist David Drazin will perform a live score.) And at 7 PM the following evening the FSC concludes its ongoing series of Chinese opera films with The Inspector and the Prince (2004), reportedly one of the few opera adaptations made in China in the past decade.

When I reported on the opera series a couple weeks ago, I failed to mention that the director of Prince, Zheng Dasheng, will attend the screening and take part in a postshow discussion with Chinese literature professor Paolo Iovene. Also I was unaware two weeks ago that Zheng is the son of filmmaker Huang Shuqin, who directed the previous film in the series, Woman, Demon, Human. (Perhaps Zheng will share stories about that movie as well.) The FSC summary suggests that Prince has stylistic affinities with Demon—like Huang’s work, it’s said to combine realistic and theatrical devices, including Brechtian alienation effects that reveal how the film is being made as we watch it.

Lubitsch completists generally consider Three Women a minor work (making it, after Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, the second minor Lubitsch to play Hyde Park this week). This also appears to be how moviegoers regarded it in 1924. “This is a work of art so far as the direction is concerned, but the story is weak in comparison,” wrote Mordaunt Hall in the New York Times. “Nevertheless we advise picture enthusiasts to see it as there is so much in it that is enjoyable.” For what it’s worth, this doesn’t sound like an impersonal project for Lubitsch. Taken from a novel by Yolande Maree (which is almost as good a name as Mordaunt Hall), the film is a romantic roundelay about a middle-aged socialite, her 18-year-old daughter, and the paramour who comes to fancy them both.