The Wildcat

The Wildcat ★★★½

Lubitsch’s favourite of his German films is a lot of fun – especially after struggling through two of his more stolid melodramas, Sumurun and Anna Boleyn.

For the most part, it’s delirious comic mayhem, a sort of live-action cartoon set in a mythical kingdom and featuring an effete, amorous lieutenant, a completely incompetent guardsman with a massive moustache, and Pola Negri as a mountain-dwelling robber baron engaging in S&M with her hordes. The film kicks off with a soldier leaping out of bed to shut the window on a bugler so he can go back to bed, and goes on cheerily from there.

The pace does slacken at times, but there’s always something funny or unexpected around the corner. Highlights for me were the kids’ farewell to the lieutenant, the robbers’ joyful dance and the lovers’ chase scene – which made me laugh out loud. The ending has a similar feel to that of The Smiling Lieutenant, probably the best of Lubitsch’s early sound films.

This one’s sexy, silly, subversive, surprising and close to surreal – all the ‘S’s – and has an unusual look too, the director masking the camera to turn the frame all manner of inventive, apposite shapes. And Negri is good; she’s no Ossi Oswalda, but I think I’m becoming a fan.