Boyer, who usually played suave sophisticated lovers, is here Playing Against Type as Liliom, a brash, brutish lower-class cad, who as the film opens is working as a carnival barker on a carousel. His flirting with a customer on the carousel arouses the jealousy of his girlfriend, who happens to own the carnival; Liliom rashly quits his job. Just as quickly the customer, a woman named Julie, falls in love with Liliom and takes him home to live with her and her aunt, who has a photography business.
This is not the wisest decision on Julie's part as Liliom is a thoughtless cad and lout, who lazes around their little house all day, making no effort to get a job even as Julie goes hungry. Julie the doormat takes Liliom's abuse, including the smack across the face that he gives her. When Julie announces that she is pregnant, Liliom decides to support her, not by getting a job or anything, but by committing armed robbery. This harebrained idea naturally ends in disaster, and Liliom kills himself to avoid arrest. He then finds himself in the afterlife, where he is in trouble for committing suicide.
Liliom was based on a 1909 Hungarian play, also called Liliom. It was the only French movie Lang ever made, France being a pit stop between his defection from Nazi Germany and his arrival in Hollywood where he worked for the next 20 years. A decade after this movie the story would be adapted again, into one of the most famous stage musicals of all time, Carousel (itself later adapted into a film).
- Adaptational Alternate Ending: The play has a Downer Ending in which Liliom fails to help his daughter and is sent to hell. In this film the love that Julie and her daughter feel for Liliom saves him from damnation.
- Afterlife Antechamber: The one that Liliom is taken to looks exactly like the police station that he had to go to earlier in the movie.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Julie is hopelessly in love with Liliom, so much that she ignores the attentions of a good-natured carpenter who is crazy about her.Julie: Bad man. Brute. Darling.
- The Casanova: Liliom is called a "dangerous seducer of maids." And it seems true, as he bonked his boss at the carnival, and had both Julie and Julie's friend willing to go home with him.
- Celestial Bureaucracy: Liliom finds a bunch of frustrated cops in Heaven, stamping forms just like they do on earth.
- Comforting Comforter: Another indication of the one-sided nature of Liliom and Julie's relationship, as she puts a blanket on him as he lays on the couch.
- Conversation Cut: A hallmark of Fritz Lang's career. Here we see the photographer aunt setting up a picture. She says "One, two..." and the film cuts to the number "3" over a door, as Liliom arrives at the police station.
- Driven to Suicide: Liliom stabs himself rather than get arrested. The angels in Heaven don't take well to this at all.
- Extreme Doormat: Julie will take any abuse from Liliom. He's a lazy good-for-nothing who hits her, and she takes it.
- Foreshadowing: Alfred says that when lowlifes like he and Liliom die, they don't see God, they see a police inspector. This is exactly what happens when Liliom dies.
- Fluffy Cloud Heaven: Complete with cherubim playing harps. Liliom doesn't get to enjoy it too much.
- Guardian Angel: Just as Liliom and his friend Alfred are about to try and rob the payroll, a creepy-looking knife sharpener hauling a cart shows up and briefly distracts Liliom. Later, in heaven, Liliom sees the knife sharpener again and is told that he's Liliom's guardian angel. Liliom appeals for help and the angel says "Too late."
- Heel Realization: "I'm a bastard, a real bastard," says Liliom as he's dying. He gets this more forcefully in Heaven when they play back a video of him hitting Julie.
- Identical Stranger: The same actress plays both Julie and Liliom and Julie's daughter.
- Inner Monologue: Liliom has his played back to him when the inspector shows him the scene of him hitting Julie, with his own thoughts played over. It reveals that Liliom hit her due to his own feelings of shame and inadequacy.
- Looks Like Cesare: The knife sharpener is the first character to have the creepy pale dark-eyed look. The two reapers who carry Liliom to Heaven also have the same look. Unsurprisingly the knife sharpener turns out to have also been an angel.
- Medium Blending: Liliom, returned to earth, tries to give his daughter a star from heaven. It is twinkling with what's obviously hand-drawn (scribbled, actually) lines of animation.
- Mundane Afterlife: Liliom discovers after his suicide that Heaven is exactly like the police station he was in earlier in the film, from his treatment by the man at the desk to the sign on the wall that says "No Spitting".
- Never Got to Say Goodbye: Julie Cannot Spit It Out that she loves Liliom, though she does become pregnant with his child. She finally gathers enough courage to say "I love you" to his corpse.
- No Honor Among Thieves: "It was him!", says Alfred when he and Liliom are caught, having attempted to rob a payroll man who was carrying a gun.
- No Name Given: For Liliom and Julie's daughter.
- Our Angels Are Different: Most of them look just like cops, except they have wings sprouting out of their back. The reapers have a Looks Like Cesare creepiness about them instead.
- Psychic Link: Julie feels a sharp pain in her side the moment Liliom stabs himself.
- Romanticized Abuse: A depiction of being hit in the face as love, something which originates in the 1909 play and has been part of all adaptations. After briefly revived Liliom smacks his daughter, she makes a connection with her mother, who was also hit by Liliom.The Daughter: Mother, did anyone ever hit you? I mean a real slap that you can hear ring, and you didn't feel a thing?
Julie: Yes, my child. There was a time when someone hit me, and I didn't feel a thing.
The Daughter: Then, it is possible for someone to hit you, and not hurt you at all?
Julie: Yes, my child. Someone can beat you, and beat you, without hurting you at all.
- Scales of Justice: The trial at which Liliom's eternal fate will be decided uses giant scales. A demon piles weights on the bad scale when Liliom does bad stuff like smack his daughter's hand, and an angel weighs down the good side when Liliom does good stuff, like try to give her a star.
- Show Some Leg: Mme. Muscat the circus owner very deliberately does this when talking to Liliom, in an effort to get him to come back.
- Time Skip: 16 years burning in purgatory before Liliom is sent back to Earth for a day.
- Unfinished Business: The inspector evaluating Liliom's case says everyone can come back to Earth for a day and suggests that Liliom must have some unfinished business to take care of. Liliom draws a blank, but eventually he's sent down to do something nice for his daughter.
- Winged Soul Flies Off at Death: Rather, two ghostly reapers come and lift Liliom's soul out of his body and carry him to Heaven.
- Would Hit a Girl: The worst thing Liliom ever did, as the angels in Heaven are only too willing to remind him.
- You Are Number 6: The two reapers that bring Liliom to heaven are Number 312 and Number 13,000.
- You, Get Me Coffee: Part of how Liliom takes advantage of Julie is shown when he barks "Go make some coffee" and she willingly submits.