You and Me (Fritz Lang, 1938)

This review is part of our Auteurs Gone Wild series. The movie will screen at Anthology Film Archives on 3/20, 3/27 and 3/29.  

Sylvia Sidney is one of Lang’s good girls, one of his American sweethearts. She wants the finer things in life, of course, but she doesn’t ask for what she can’t have, for things far outside her means. She’s not vain and lazy like Scarlet Street‘s Kitty March (Joan Bennett), only picking up and touching things with the very ends of her fingertips because she’s afraid she’ll chip her nail polish. She’s not even a “sampler” of small vices, like Katie Bannion (Jocelyn Brando) or a well-dressed good-time girl like Debby Marsh (Gloria Grahame) in The Big Heat. No, Lang’s Sidney is content to be one of those hardworking folks who only indulges in niceties once or twice a year, probably around tax and birthday time.

In You and Me, her character, Helen, would love to have a bottle of Hour of Ecstasy perfume. She probably stares at the perfume’s window display during her lunch hour at Morris’ department store everyday. And, even though she’s an ex-con with a rough history, Helen doesn’t steal it. She wants it so badly that we never even see her smell it, just in case it proves to be too tempting for her.

Helen’s new husband, Joe (George Raft), doesn’t understand why she wants the perfume, which, to me, means he doesn’t really understand her.

***

Helen: I’ve been looking at that [Hour of Ecstasy perfume] again. Gee, imagine some girls can just go in and buy it and think nothing of it.

Joe: It’s just smell-um, isn’t it?

Helen: But, Joe, it’s Hour of Ecstasy!

Joe: Is it?

Helen: Joe, you just don’t understand, I guess. There isn’t anything in the world that can build a girl up like good perfume. It does something for her… soul, kind of. See?

Joe: No.

Helen: It must be very simple to be a man.

***

Much is said of the sound in Fritz Lang’s movies, how his intricate application of clicks and clacks in metal and machinery on his soundtracks or use of tunes like “Legend of Chuck-A-Luck” make him one of the masters of cinema. When I think of Lang, I think of the heavy motor noises before the gun fire and explosion in the first five minutes of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. Or maybe the sound of Robert Ryan’s projector whirring at the small town movie house in Clash by Night. His cinematography, which tackled everything from German expressionism to lush Technicolor productions, is also a frequent point of discussion. And rightfully so.

In You and Me, which is probably Lang’s sweetest flick, however, a man learning to appreciate his wife’s fine sense of smell is the predominant force at work. The main reason it’s Lang’s most atypical film.

This is kind of funny because You and Me also happens to be a wonderfully goofy gangster musical.

His skilled use of:

Sound:

Sight:

And even touch…:

…are all prevalent in the flick, too. But the moment of favorable judgment, the happy ending, only comes after Joe buys Helen the perfume.

George Raft sits alone in the department store, contemplating his, and possibly, their, future. He behaved like a hypocritical idiot and reacted to a bad situation like so many other Lang characters…

Before deciding to do the right thing.

If this were a typical Fritz Lang movie, Raft’s Joe might have officially left Helen after he discovered they weren’t actually married, when she knowingly consummated their illegitimate relationship and got pregnant, but this isn’t a typical Lang film, it’s You and Me. It’s not only an Hour of Ecstasy, or even two. It’s just perfect.

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