The Case of Lena Smith

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A lesser-known effort from director Josef Von Sternberg, The Case of Lena Smith has been unfairly chastised for all the wrong reasons. It has been branded a financial failure, but in fact its comparatively small box-office take was due to the decision by Paramount Pictures to withdraw several of its late silent releases from distribution and concentrate on talkies. And the casting of Paramount contractee Esther Ralston, who in 1928 was more closely associated with light comedies and romances, has been condemned as a concession to the actress' popularity, when in fact Von Sternberg chose Ralston over Paramount's strenuous objections. The story is set in turn-of-the-century Vienna, where simple peasant girl Lena Smith (Ralston) falls head-over-heels in love with young aristocrat Franz Hofrat (James Hall). The couple are married, despite intense pressure from Hoffrat's blue-blooded family. Ever so slowly and ever so surely, Lena's good nature and unbounded optimism are crushed and shattered by the merciless juggernaut of class consciousness and public opinion, leading unswervingly to a tragic ending. In the original script, Lena Smith was a prostitute, but this was carefully written out to avoid audience animosity against the character (one of the few concessions to popular taste made by Von Sternberg in this instance). Like all of the director's films, The Case of Lena Smith was exquisitely photographed; in fact, there were those who felt that the already gorgeous Esther Ralston never looked better on screen, despite all the suffering endured by her character.


Esther Ralston
as Lena Smith
James Hall
as Franz Hofrat
Emily Fitzroy
as Frau Hofrat
Lawrence Grant
as Commissioner
Ann Brody
as Janitor's Wife
Wally Albright
as Franz (age 3)
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