Newest Reviews:

New Movies -  

The Tunnel


The Tall Man

Mama Africa





Brownian Movement

Last Ride

[Rec]³: Genesis

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Indie Game: The Movie

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Old Movies -

Touki Bouki: The Journey of the Hyena

Drums Along the Mohawk

The Chase

The Heiress

Show People

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry



Miracle Mile

The Great Flamarion

Dark Habits

Archives -

Recap: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 , 2005, 2006, 2007 , 2008 , 2009 , 2010 , 2011 , 2012

All reviews alphabetically

All reviews by star rating

All reviews by release year


Screening Log



E-mail me




The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (Ernst Lubitsch, 1927)


     Ernst Lubitsch’s graceful silent comedy The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg is both a class act and a still-relevant model for emulation. In its tonal lightness and its clean narrative arc, it seems a clear high-point in its genre, bettering the vast majority of the screen’s romantic comedies. Telling a simple story of a young prince who finds love, only to have his happiness threatened by his duties as royalty, the movie manages to capture a sense of carefree nostalgia without feeling mawkish. It makes its simple romantic tale seem fresh and innocent.  This may be perhaps because the bold proclamations of love that it relays work better in the silent format, where an additional layer of unreality shelters the characters from our jaded cynicism, but it might also be because it’s unafraid to take its characters’ emotions at face value. Its sustained, unabashed goodwill is disarming.


     Ramon Novarro, who never had much of a film career in the sound era, stars as the titular, pretty-faced prince. His wide grin sets the affable tone that comes to define the movie. It is a winning performance, from someone who clearly had star power to spare, and it’s odd that more isn’t said about Novarro’s talent these days. He’s helped out by a supporting cast that Lubitsch seems to have chosen largely because of their look. Lubitsch defines, and gently mocks, character through visual exaggeration, and the approach works splendidly here, as he’s populated the picture with instantly recognizable types. In this context, even Norma Shearer is allowed to be goofy, slinging beers to a group of rowdy college lads, then chugging one down herself in a show of camaraderie. She’s presented as a natural match for Novarro’s boyish prince from the moment she reminds him that “a prince, after all, is only a human being.”


     Lubitsch jam packs Student Prince with fleeting examples of the famed “Lubitsch touch”. His sophisticated grace notes are always knowingly winking at us. As a director, he’s more at ease with human foibles than just about anyone. For example, one sequence comically fades from a lecture hall with a solitary student in attendance to a jam-packed dance hall where the rest of the student body revels. Another scene shows Dr. Jüttner, the hero’s mentor, as he laments his hung-over stupor. “That stuff is poison for me…,” he complains, before immediately drinking more anyway. Such reversals of expectation come not with judgment, but rather with the ability to make us marvel out peoples’ capacity to subvert our pre-judgment of them.


     As The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg begins to wind down, though, it steps back from the frivolity that so defined it. The young prince must face his ultimate duty, leaving his puppy love threatened. It’s a development that seems predictable (indeed, it was presaged in the early scenes recounting his childhood), but it’s not any less affecting as a result. The movie concludes not with a celebration of amour, but instead with a melancholy (yet nonetheless amusing) sequence in which the hero attempts to recapture the glory of his college days. It’s no great spoiler to note that Lubitsch is too perceptive about human nature to permit such wish fulfillment, but even so the slap of The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg’s final irony stings plenty.



Jeremy Heilman