Archive for Dolly Haas

Five Minutes of One Hour of Happiness

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , on August 6, 2021 by dcairns

This is the beginning of ONE HOUR OF HAPPINESS (EINE STUNDE GLUECK, 1931), William Dieterle’s last film before leaving for Hollywood (with excellent timing, two years before the Nazis caused rather a rush in that direction). It’s terrifically charming and inventive.

But wait! Although it’s attached to the front of the file of the film I obtained, it behaves more like a trailer. And then the film has no opening credits, so I think it’s a trailer grafted on to the front of a print missing the main titles. But I can’t be 100% sure. The film is quite short — literally an hour, though not literally all happiness. Maybe the specially-shot trailer was patched on to pad the movie out? hard to be sure.

The trailer, in fact, is better than the movie (a phenomenon we’re used to) but has the same virtues: it’s quirky, ludic and highly original. We were following up our interest in Dolly Haas — though she isn’t the crazy monkey we’d enjoyed so much in GIRLS WILL BE BOYS, she’s affecting and sweet and gets a dance number. The whole film takes place in a department store at night, making it a kind of prequel to EVENING PRIMROSE. The jazz band of racist caricatures is unfortunate, and its discomfort/eeriness points to a bit of an issue with the film overall.

Dieterle, who is delightful as himself in the trailer, is a problematic leading man in the film: as in a lot of German operettafilms of the period, people who are supposed to be charming are instead creepy. The hulking Dieterle “We called him the iron stove” — Edgar Ulmer) isn’t as grotesque as his costar Harald Paulsen with his freaky corpseteeth, but when he looms forward tenderly it’s terrifying rather than reassuring.

But DO check out the trailer. I’ve left the first shot of the film proper on the end which continues the playfulness. Fans of sandy Vaseline will enjoy this odd movie: the pleasure/creep balance is way off, but it’s definitely distinctive.

You Just Can’t Get the Distaff

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2021 by dcairns

GIRLS WILL BE BOYS (1934) is thematically much like FIRST A GIRL, but instead of Jessie Matthews disguised as a boy disguised as a girl, we have Dolly Haas dressed as a boy, then as a girl (causing certain parties to think she’s a boy dressed as a girl).

Dolly is delightful. As a boy she’s like a prancing monkey, and her German accent runs wild, drawing out single syllables into low whoops. A strong-willed tyke, she signed with Columbia after this but declined to change her name to Lilli Marlowe, and so that went nowhere. She was chums with Hitchcock — I guess from around this time — and he put her in I CONFESS, but that role doesn’t find a use for her simian high spirits.

The script — co-credited to Curt Siodmak (!) — keeps Dolly in sexy jeopardy, much of it caused by male lead Esmond Knight. It’s always a surprise to see him in a leading role if you know him as a character man in post-war Powell & Pressburger films, heroically covering up his lost eyesight (blinded at sea). But here it makes sense: by the standard of 30s Brit leading men, he’s fairly handsome (no Leslie Banks scarring) and even has a physique.

Speaking of physique — the script’s main method of unmasking Dolly’s disguises is to undress her. While FIRST A GIRL contrived a swimming accident, at least Jessie had a cossie. Dolly, entangled in weeds in the estate’s pond (it’s a country house escapade, vaguely Wodehousian in spirit) is bare buff, save for a chaste weed bikini top.

Director Marcel Varnel hasn’t much of a rep — his IMDb bio says “his films were for the most part undistinguished” — he did go on to make too many George Formby vehicles (picture a clown car with a massive front grill) — two moments deserve special mention. One is a scene change, where a character exits through a heavy door — with a jolt the whole wall is hoisted into the air and at once we’re in a theatre. Later, in boy drag, Dolly must listen to a smutty story after dinner with the old duffers — Varnel tactfully swoops out of the room in a thrill-cam glide, then, after the shortest possible pause, swoops back in on Dolly, having missed the one about the commercial traveller and the lady with the glass eye.

Though there are fewer hints of male-male attraction, and no obviously queer-coded character like Sonnie Hale in FIRST A GIRL, the film feels more transgressive because Dolly is a more convincing boy than Jessie could ever be. So gender certainties are throw into doubt, before being happily resolved — or are they? In fancy dress for a fete, the lovers clinch for some hey-hey in the hay loft, and Esmond’s frilly sleeves rhyme elegantly with Dolly’s bloomers.

Waif Goodbye

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , on April 16, 2015 by dcairns

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I guess D.W. Griffith wasn’t to know that 1936 would be his last chance for a comeback, but young John Brahm certainly seized his chance at a debut. What Emlyn Williams (above) thought he was doing was anybody’s guess. Over at The Forgotten.