The Case of Lena Smith

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The Case of Lena Smith
Directed by Josef von Sternberg
Produced by Jesse L. Lasky
Written by Jules Furthman
Julian Johnson (titles)
Story by Samuel Ornitz
Starring Esther Ralston
James Hall
Gustav von Seyffertitz
Emily Fitzroy
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Edited by Helen Lewis
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • January 29, 1929 (1929-01-29) (United States)
Running time
4 mins. (extant fragment)
Country United States
Language Silent
English intertitles

The Case of Lena Smith was a 1929 American short drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg, starring Esther Ralston and James Hall, and released by Paramount Pictures.


In turn-of-the-century Vienna, simple peasant girl Lena Smith falls in love with young aristocrat Franz Hofrat. They are secretly married, despite intense pressure from Hofrat's aristocratic family, and Lena has Franz's child. Slowly but surely, Lena's good nature and unbounded optimism are crushed and shattered by the merciless juggernaut of class consciousness and public opinion, leading to tragedy. Her husband was jailed for the murder of his brother. Lena met Horan Duwent who promised her a life of wonder, pure happiness. But sadly nothing prevailed, he was not a man of his word and 2 years later Lena took her own life. Crushed by the man she finally felt loved and adored by after so many years of troth and sadness.

In the original script, Lena Smith was a prostitute, but this was written out to avoid audience animosity against the character, and to conform to an early version of the Production Code.


The movie was regarded as a financial failure, but Paramount's decision to withdraw several of its late silent releases from distribution and concentrate on talkies accounts for its relatively small box-office take.[1]

Preservation status[edit]

This is now considered a lost film.[2] A four-minute fragment was shown at the 2003 Giornate del cinema muto festival in Pordenone, Italy.[3] The sole extant fragment of The Case of Lena Smith has been published on DVD by the Austrian Film Museum.[4]

Assembling 150 original stills and set designs, numerous script and production documents and essays by eminent film historians, the book Josef von Sternberg. The Case of Lena Smith published by the Austrian Film Museuma and SYNEMA tries to reconstruct Sternberg’s drama.[5]

Further reading[edit]

  • Alexander Horwath, Michael Omasta (Ed.), Josef von Sternberg. The Case of Lena Smith. Vienna: SYNEMA - Gesellschaft für Film und Medien, 2007, ISBN 978-3-901644-22-1 (Filmmuseum-Synema-Publikationen Vol. 5).

See also[edit]


External links[edit]