The Oyster Princess (1919, Ernst Lubitsch)

Remarkably well-restored, exciting little hour-long comedy, with a distinctive look and memorable performances – much, much better than anything I expected with such a boring name. I don’t know what I thought, maybe a Little Mermaid type thing, but the girl comes from a family who made their wealth in oysters, and agrees to marry down-and-out royalty to get herself a title, hence “oyster princess.”

The hyper-rich Oyster King, Mr. Quaker (Victor Janson, whom I liked so much in this role, I’ll try to forget that he appeared in “the key film in Nazi popular culture” in 1942) is disturbed from smoking a cigar the size of his head by a report that his daughter (Ossi Oswalda, “the German Mary Pickford”) has torn up her room upon hearing that the Shoe-Cream King’s daughter has married a prince, so Quaker hires the local matchmaker to procure a prince.

Handsome Prince Nucki (Harry Liedtke, title star of The Grand Duke’s Finances) lives in a ramshackle apartment with his roommate/assistant, bald jokester Josef (Julius Falkenstein of Dr. Mabuse The Gambler, The Haunted Castle). The matchmaker pays a call, and the prince sends Josef to check out the girl. But she’s in a hurry, marries Josef immediately, and holds a wedding banquet (Quaker: “Excuse me for introducing you to my son-in-law”). A split-screen “foxtrot epidemic” ensues (above) and Josef gets giddily drunk, while Nucki goes out drinking with his friends. This ends with my favorite shot in the movie, the group staggering down the road, depositing a man on each bench along the path.

Nucki stumbles blindly into “the multi-millionaires’ daughters’ association against dipsomania” (alcoholism) where he’s beaten up by Ossi, who falls for him and takes him home. It’s a setup for heartbreak, since Ossi is in love with a man who isn’t her husband, but then Josef says he got married in the prince’s name so the other two rush off to bed together.

Something like Lubitsch’s 30th movie (they were prolific back then), released a decade earlier than anything else I’ve seen by him.