Shortly before barrister James Warlock departs alone for an uncertain future in South Africa, he tells his soon-to-be-ex wife Clemency the entire sorry tale of his failure as a husband. In flashback, we see that James sincerely loves Clemency. Yet on their seventh wedding anniversary, when his wife was away, he begins an affair with a shopgirl. He thinks of it as no more than a mere dalliance, but the young woman takes their liaison much more seriously … Plot-wise, the romantic tragedy Cynara seems to be the diametric opposite of Vidor’s H.M. Pulham, Esq. Unlike the honourable puritan in New England, his English counterpart succumbs to the erotic charms of a lower-class woman – with fatal consequences. King Vidor sets his decisive moment in a staircase. It is not a spiral staircase, as in Robert Siodmak’s 1946 eponymous film noir, nor does it lead the protagonist inevitably to physical death – but to its social counterpart. Filmed from above and bounded by the hard-edged black shadows of the bannister, he moves inexorably downwards.
by King Vidor
with Ronald Colman, Kay Francis, Phyllis Barry, Henry Stephenson, Viva Tattersall, Florine McKinney, Clarissa Selwynne, Paul Porcasi, George Kirby, Donald Stuart
USA 1932 English 78’ Black/White


  • Ronald Colman
  • Kay Francis
  • Phyllis Barry
  • Henry Stephenson
  • Viva Tattersall
  • Florine McKinney
  • Clarissa Selwynne
  • Paul Porcasi
  • George Kirby
  • Donald Stuart


Director King Vidor
Screenplay Lynn Starling, Frances Marion
Story H. M. Harwood, Robert Gore-Browne Cynara (1930)
Cinematography Ray June
Editing Hugh Bennett
Music Alfred Newman
Sound Frank Maher
Art Director Richard Day
Assistant Director Sherry Shourds
Producer Samuel Goldwyn

Additional information

Print: Park Circus, Glasgow

King Vidor

Filmography (selection)

1919 The Turn in the Road; Lost film 1925 The Big Parade (Die große Parade) 1928 The Crowd (Ein Mensch der Masse) 1929 Hallelujah 1934 Our Daily Bread (Der letzte Alarm) 1938 The Citadel 1940 Northwest Passage (Nordwest-Passage) 1947 Duel in the Sun (Duell in der Sonne) 1949 The Fountainhead (Ein Mann wie Sprengstoff) 1956 War and Peace (Krieg und Frieden) 1959 Solomon and Sheba (Salomon und die Königin von Saba)

Bio- & filmography as of Berlinale 2020