The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (Ernst Lubitsch / U.S., 1927):

"A prince is, after all, only a human being," proclaims the feisty barmaid as if directly to Machiavelli, the imperial crown gives way to a fraternity cap and sash in Ernst Lubitschís most emotional silent. King Karl VII of Karlsburg (Gustav von Seyffertitz) augustly welcomes the nephew who will inherit the throne, out of the train steps a nestling in sailor suit and short pants, frightened by the cannonade in his honor. The castleís gates clank as heavily as a prisonís, so the young prince (Ramon Novarro) reacts to news of a jaunt to Heidelberg in a sustained close-up that bubbles from raptness to glee. Beer gardens and college carousing comprise the rowdy idyll the sheltered blueblood only dreamed of, the inn keeperís daughter (Norma Shearer) downs a pitcher in a single gulp and at once heís in love. In this "place for youth" the broadminded tutor (Jean Hersholt) is a glad visitor, happily out of breath after spinning on the dance floor with a braided giantess. Seasons end, vacationís over: When the Prime Minister turns up with a reminder of the responsibilities of tradition, it is with the inexorable grimness of Murnauís wizened chief-priest in Tabu. "Just one more day of life, and love." The Romberg-Donnelly operetta played by Lubitsch like a Beethoven sonata, "Les Adieux," say, a work of profound glŁck und verlust. Lovemaking on a hillside surrounded by flowers (complete with shooting star in the sky) is a fleeting paradise that lingers as memory or reverie only, the reality when revisited turns into a leafless trunk. (A vision of Shearer smiling with open arms is a reverse track that dissolves into a forward track of Novarro at the palace, something picked up by Hitchcock.) The obligations of royalty, the "damned good poison" of romance, the evanescence that levels all. Many films flow from it, from Roman Holiday to Les Parapluies de Cherbourg to The Last Emperor, Stroheim has his own withering version in The Wedding March. With Philippe De Lacy, Edgar Norton, and Bobbie Mack. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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