A treat for me — a double bill of early Douglas Sirk films, in the company of fellow cinephiles, round at Keith Uhlich and Dan Callahan’s place (thanks!). Being jet-lagged (this was Friday) and also a total lightweight, I only stayed for the first film, but later heard a few people saying it was the better one, even if Sirk remembered it differently.*
Young Detlef Sierck’s DAS MADCHEN VOM MOORHOF takes place in rural 19th century Sweden, and has a plot combining relatively muted drama with a few somewhat awkward blasts of full-on melodrama. Nevertheless, it’s a superb piece, with plenty of Sirkian moments, including a mirror-smashing incident framed to look as if the screen itself is shattering. Reflections play a major role in the imagery —
The titular girl is Hansi Knoteck, a maidservant who has disgracefully fallen pregnant out of wedlock. We first meet her on her way to court to try and prove her claim that her former master is the father of her baby. Our young hero is impressed by her integrity when she withdraws her suit rather than see the baby’s father perjure himself on the bible. (Nice shot of a row of pious onlookers’ hands clasping tensely as he prepares to swear.) He hires her as maid, but this soon causes tension with his bride-to-be.
Everything is nicely understated during the first hour, since the maid has fallen in love with the master but no way does she want to spoil his impending marriage by announcing her feelings, and he’s fallen in love with her but he’s too much of a big dumb male to have realized this. Plot complications of a bizarre kind occur when he comes to suspect he’s stabbed a sailor in the head during his drunken stag night, and can’t remember doing it. He’s rescued from this fallacy (the sailor never appears and is a complete Swedish red herring) and united with his love as the story gets back on track. Most complex character might actually be the snooty fiancée, who gives up her claim on the hero rather than be shamed by Hansi’s superior love. A case of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, or is the face-saving excuse a disguise for deeper feelings?
My favourite scene is a positively Ulmeresque moment where the camera drifts away from the protags as they discuss wandering spirits in the stable. The camera becomes such a spirit, drifting around the room, up to the ceiling, alighting on the characters’ shadows, and then rejoining them. Don’t see enough of that kind of thing nowadays…
*The second film was another Swedish job, STUTZEN DER GESSELLSCHAFT (PILLARS OF SOCIETY), a fast-and-loose Ibsen adaptation that seemed rather heavy-handed compared to GIRL, according to the reports I heard later.