Yet another charming three-reel comedy and again a farce on marriage, desire and social and sexual role-play, The Merry Jailanticipates Lubitsch’s more sophisticated comedies of manners such as The Marriage Circle and Trouble in Paradise. A loose adaptation of the Johann Strauss II operetta Die Fledermaus, the film revolves around marital, and possibly extramarital, antics, with identity switching and traded places reminiscent of So This is Paris. Playing the husband, Harry Liedtke became a Lubitsch regular after this, while Emil Jannings—who plays the prison director—would become Lubitsch’s cinematic alter ego.
Lubitsch’s second “winter film” premiered only three days after Kohlhiesel’s Daughters, yet did not enjoy the success of its predecessor—not because Lubitsch transformed the Shakespearian tragedy into a Black Forest comedy, but because of history, namely the attempted coup–the Kapp Putsch–in Berlin that eclipsed all other news. The Shakespeare-inspired farce set in a Swabian village opens with two feuding families, the Capulethofers and the Montekugerls. Both are seeking a resolution to a dispute. While the parents are outraged over the judge’s verdict—determined with sausages on either side of the scale of justice—that neither is wrong nor right, the kids fall in love. Luckily for this Romeo and Juliet, the poison in Lubitsch’s farce turns out to be something much sweeter.