Caravan. 1934. USA. Directed by Erik Charrell. With Charles Boyer, Loretta Young, Jean Parker, Phillips Holmes, Louise Fazenda. 35mm. 101 min.
Fox’s German connection began when William Fox invited F. W. Murnau to create the towering Sunrise in 1927 and continued through an association with the producer Erich Pommer—who founded Fox Europa after the Nazis chased him out of UFA—and extended to a number of contracts with leading figures of the Weimar cinema, many of whom were able to emigrate to Hollywood as a result. Foremost among them was Erik Charell, a brilliant theatrical director who had been an assistant to Max Reinhardt and directed one of the finest of the Weimar musicals, the bittersweet operetta Der Kongress tantz (1931). In Hollywood, Fox gave Charell all the resources of the studio, and allowed him to bring over composer Werner Richard Heymann, screenwriter Robert Liebmann, and production designer Ernst Stern. With a screenplay by two Ernst Lubitsch associates, Samson Raphelson and Hans Kraly, the result was Caravan, the greatest Weimar musical not made in Germany. Droll, sophisticated, and bittersweet, this tale of a Hungarian countess (Loretta Young) who impulsively marries a gypsy violinist (Charles Boyer, who also starred in a simultaneously made French-language version) is full of pointed observations about class and race in Old Europe. And yet American audiences rejected it out of hand, perhaps because the experienced Charrell, Jewish and gay, could not bring himself to provide a traditional happy ending that would allow the minority outcast to live in eternal harmony with the aristocratic insider. Seen today, Caravan is not without its flaws of taste and scale, but it is a hugely entertaining and emotionally involving film, as well as one of Hollywood’s earliest coded protests against Hitler. Restored from the only known nitrate print, held in MoMA’s collection. Preservation funded by Twentieth Century Fox.