I chalked up the strange, mannered acting (and delivery) to perhaps Borzage not knowing how to deal with sound yet. Farrell has a strange voice. It didn't really seem to suit the role. I mean, they keep talking about how Liliom is supposed to be this fun roguish-type character, and about how everyone loves him, but he's really just kind of a jerk.
The death scene was superb. I think that's the one time in the film where I was genuinely moved.
Besides, it's hard to deny how powerful the image is by itself, and then it gets all spooky when the train comes in (this has to be one of my favorite shots of all time, I think).
I honestly don't know what to make of the ending. It was powerful that he would be rejected by his own daughter since Liliom was kind of a jackass, but then that gets all twisted by the whole "kiss" thing. Really, the entire relationship between Julie and Liliom is really weird. It always seem very one-sided to me.
Glenn Kenny writes about the film here
and compares it to Fritz Lang's 1934 version of the same story. I'm very curious about it.
BTW, if you want more 1930 Charles Farrell action, check out Murnau's sublime City Girl
. The huge window of their apartment actually reminded me of the girl's room in that movie. However, it turns out I misremembered it. Instead of the apartment having one huge window, it has two big ones. Every so often a train will pass by, just like the coaster from Liliom