review for Liliom on AllMovie

Liliom (1930)
by Craig Butler review

This rarely seen version of Liliom is a decidedly uneven affair, one that might have come off better if it had been filmed a few years later, after "talkie" technology had advanced and Frank Borzage had had the opportunity to get a few more sound movies under his considerable directorial belt. Like many other movies of the era, Liliom doesn't move as much as it wants to; the pacing is off, and the camera of necessity isn't as fluid as it needs to be, especially for a film as (literally) "fantastic" as this one. Even had it been made later, however, the performance of Charles Farrell in the title role would have been a disaster. Though he looks the part, Farrell's voice is all wrong, he doesn't have the correct personality, and his acting ability is too limited to handle such a complicated role. Fortunately, Rose Hobart is a lovely Julie, perfectly underscoring the impossibly romantic nature of the girl and helping the audience to understand why the character could love someone like Liliom. Although Borzage is hampered by the still-new technology, he does manage a few marvelous moments, most notably the famous "train to Heaven" sequence, and his innate belief in romance at all costs is clear in every frame. Though inferior to the Fritz Lang version (and to the later musical), this Liliom is worth seeing as a curiosity for those who are fascinated with Ferenc Molnar's play.