'Lady Windermere's Fan': Ernst Lubitsch Classic Classy Comedy

Irene Rich in Lady Windermere's Fan by Ernst Lubitsch

May McAvoy, Bert Lytell, Ronald Colman in Lady Windermere's Fan Bert Lytell is the nice husband, May McAvoy the jealous wife, Ronald Colman the other man, and Irene Rich (above) the scene stealer in Ernst Lubitsch's delightful film version of Oscar Wilde's play Lady Windermere's Fan.

In the film, Rich plays Mrs. Erlynne, a woman of the world in search of a lordly husband. McAvoy is her clueless daughter, Lady Windermere: she doesn't know her mother's identity and mistakenly believes that Mrs. Erlynne has set her sights on handsome Lord Windermere (Lytell).

Petulant child that she is, Lady Windermere goes after eligible bachelor Lord Darlington (Colman), eventually forgetting her fan at his place. All is taken care of at the end, of course, but Julien Josephson's adaptation kept me alternately intrigued and amused throughout.

Not surprisingly, Lubitsch's magical touch fully captures Wilde's flair and sophistication. Surprisingly, however, Lubitsch also makes Lady Windermere's Fan flow just like a talkie. I had to read the witty dialogue – titles by Maude Fulton and Erik Yorke – but it felt as if I was actually hearing it.

And if May McAvoy is inadequate as the young heroine (that same year she was equally inadequate in the mammoth Ben-Hur), while former Metro star Bert Lytell and future Goldwyn star Ronald Colman are likable but none too memorable as the two leading men, both sophisticate Irene Rich and admirer Edward Martindel more than compensate for the shortcomings of their fellow cast members.

Of the four leading players, only Ronald Colman would have a stellar career in talking pictures; Colman would also become one of the best actors of the 1930s and 1940s. Irene Rich, for her part, would keep herself busy in supporting roles for a couple more decades.

Lady Windermere's Fan (1925). Dir.: Ernst Lubitsch. Scr.: Julien Josephson; titles: Maude Fulton and Erik Yorke; from Oscar Wilde's play. Cast: Ronald Colman, May McAvoy, Bert Lytell, Irene Rich, Edward Martindel.

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