#1 The carousel scene in Liliom [EPISODE 8]
Multi-layered and a sensory delight, the Hippo-Palace carousel scene in Fritz Lang’s Liliom (’34) invites the viewer to linger over and dwell in what’s onscreen. Lang stages an unexpected sexually charged arena in an otherwise wholesome nursery-crowd bailiwick. Glazed enamel horses and deer present a smooth mount for ladies to ride in giddy circles as they hope to catch the eye of Charles Boyer’s titular carnival barker, Liliom. He swings and darts around the carousel in a nimble striped Breton t-shirt with a carnation tucked in his high-waist trousers. Liliom sports a nautical ensemble, which tells us despite the absence of a maritime setting, he’s still the captain of the carousel. A drunken sailor’s tomfoolery adds to the sea-faring theme and Liliom’s dominion as he proves a dab hand at managing the swabbie.
One moment he bestows a kiss on a woman leaning backward on her horse; the next, Liliom tugs an excited woman’s dress down and pats the back of her thigh in a familiar manner, as if to remind her not to get too carried away. Throughout the scene, Lang compares Liliom to Alexandre Rignault’s Hollinger, the resident strong man, who advertises his concession as requiring no skill, just strength, to launch a toy torpedo along a track to sink a target ship. Hollinger’s description of the game explains why the strong man lacks appeal. He’s an inert, dull brute next to dynamic Liliom, a distinct opposite, who cajoles, teases and captivates both men and women.
Julie (Madeleine Ozeray) and her friend Marie (Mimi Funés), ride the carousel four times in a row, settled with purses hitched to the ear and antlers of their lacquered steeds. Marie powders her nose before Liliom collects her ticket while Julie flirts and attempts to snatch Liliom’s carnation, a prize more valuable than any brass ring, because it symbolises Liliom’s regard. Under clear while bulbs, Liliom serenades the crowd standing in front of a tableaux of Adam and Eve with serpent and apple.
When Hollinger goads Liliom into a fight and pulls a knife, the carnival patrons gasp rapt attention until it’s clear that quick wits best the ham-fisted strong man. The battle of strength fades into the background as a female troika engage in sexual contest for the Breton shirt spoils. Carousel owner Madame Moscat (Florelle) accuses Julie and Marie of solicitation, of allowing themselves to be fondled and bars them from the merry-go- round. They trade insults. Julie calls the boss a ‘fish face.’ Flashing tempers parallel their desire to possess the compact brawn in sailor’s garb. Liliom mediates their triangulated claim with a refusal for each, drawing his boss (in a striped scarf that mirrors Liliom’s shirt) to emphasise a dominant position as his employer, so he will do her bidding and forswear the girls. Madame Moscat hasn’t a prayer in this game of chicken. Liliom rankles at her threat of dismissal and announces his departure. He’ll keep his own erotic counsel.
Liliom’s opening scene presents a wanton spectacle of pleasure’s crisscross which can’t be matched even by the subsequent ascent to heaven.