The Story of the Moral

Ellen Richter seems like a good subject for further study — I intend to check out on of her travel-adventure films (Reise-und-Abenteuerfilme), the only one available to me, DER FLUG UM DEN ERDBALL (THE FLIGHT AROUND THE WORLD, 1925). Richter produced her own films and her husband, Willi Wolff, directed them. Pordenone director Jay Weissberg speculated that she’s not better-known because she didn’t work with the big-name German directors, and so few of her films were preserved, but added the fact thats she was Jewish, and she and Wolff got out of the Fatherland in 1933 (emigrating to America but not making any more films there) — it seems to me possible that the Nazis actively tried to destroy her work, the way they went after Dietrich’s. (Langlois rescued the negative of THE BLUE ANGEL, allowing some forgettable travelogue to be cremated in its place, with the connivance of an S.S. man who was a big Marlene fan.)

Pordenone chose a different genre for streaming, MORAL, a sophisticated comedy with a musical theatre/smalltown theme. Guest-starring the Tiller Girls, a British variety act very popular in Germany, MORAL is intermittently very amusing and looks great. Wolff delivers some nimble touches — there’s a flurry of shocked reaction shots like a THIN MAN denouement, and a relay of embarrassed walks, where one character runs into another and reverses course, and the other guy, retreating in likewise embarrassment, runs into a third and the whole thing repeats. Quite fresh.

(My late friend Lawrie Knight directed the Tiller Girls, in a later incarnation. Not sure what the film was for. Day one went well, but on day two the girls were all bruised around the backside area. “What caused it?” I asked, naively. “Fucking!” Lawrie chortled. Some fortunate make-up artist had his work cut out for him.)

THE BLUE ANGEL, or rather its source novel, Henirich Mann’s Professor Unrat, seems to be in the mix here, as schoolboys pass around a postcard of Richter’s mildly saucy act under the (blue) nose of their despotic schoolteacher. Or maybe that was just something that happened so regularly in Germany that it was bound to make it into several media representations by sheer ubiquity.

You can see, perhaps, why Richter didn’t get into Hollywood movies — I don’t know what her English was like but her face is strong-featured, her build sturdy. But her ironic smile and her scintillating wardrobe exert charm.

I also watched a discussion about FILIBUS, a film which seems to cast a spell over all who see it. I didn’t learn all that much, except about the historical confusion as to who the star is and the mystery around who made it and whether it may have been a serial at one time. But my own enchantment with the film was confirmed by others who felt similarly, including the restoration team led by Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi.

One Response to “The Story of the Moral”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

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