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Beware of Pity Movie Review

lieven zweig palmer lieutenant

Stefan Zweig was an idealistic Austrian writer whose dreams of a united Europe were shattered by World War II. In 1942, he fled with his wife to Brazil where both committed suicide. Zweig left behind an impressive body of work, including several biographies, a novel called Beware of Pity, and many short stories, including “The Royal Game” and “Letter from an Unknown Woman,” filmed by Max Ophuls for Universal in 1948. Maurice Elvey directed Beware of Pity in 1946 as a vehicle for two German expatriate stars, Lilli Palmer and the formally cool Albert Lieven, then 40. Although Palmer was then 35, her onscreen specialty between 1935 and 1986 was playing bewitching leading ladies and she is altogether compelling as the rich and youthful Baroness Edith. An extended ballroom sequence reveals her immediate infatuation with Lieven's aloof Lieutenant Anton Marek. Unfortunately, the large-eyed beauty has been crippled by an accident, rendering her an unsuitable dance partner, not to mention an ineligible bride, at least in HIS eyes. Her crush evolves into a lifelong obsession, and Marek's distaste for her is barely concealed by patronizing segues and ultra-polite humor. The more she reveals her love for him, the more he shuns her, until she is forced to recognize how far apart their feelings are. The best acting in the film is delivered by Gladys Cooper, then 58, who began her movie career at 25 and was something of a real-life pin-up girl during World War I. There's not a shred of self-pity in her immaculate performance as the blind wife of the Baroness’ doctor, who tries hard to change destiny. I can never figure out whether Beware of Pity is some sort of a tribute to a self-contained careerist or if the conscience-ridden Zweig was trying to show the enormous damage emotional clods wreak on their love-starved victims. Either way, Beware of Pity is a beautifully filmed tale of romantic longing with expert playing by the two leads. It is also a wistful reminder of the irreplaceable pre-Sarajevo days that inevitably evoke fairy tales through their sheer visual loveliness. But the emotional rot has sunk in already; there's never-ending isolation and suffering for the victimized Baroness and a pointless series of military pursuits for the walled-off Lieutenant.

1946 129m/B Lilli Palmer, Albert Lieven, Cedric Hardwicke, Gladys Cooper, Ernest Thesiger, Freda Jackson, Linden Travers, Ralph Truman, Peter Cotes, Jenny Laird, Emrys Jones, Gerhard Kempinski, John Salew, Kenneth Warrington; D: Maurice Elvey; W: W.P. Lipscomb, Elizabeth Barron, Margaret Steen; C: Derick Williams. VHS

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