Mihály Kertész (Michael Curtiz)

T. alt.: Herzogin Satanella. T. int: Satan’s Memoirs. Scen.: Friedrich Porges. F.: Gustav Ucicky. Int.: Lucy Doraine (duchessa Leda Orlonia / marchesa Rochefou / geisha), Alphons Fryland (il detenuto / conte Guido), Anton Tiller (Mario Barbarini / Cavalcanti), Max Ralph-Ostermann (lo straniero), Magda Nagy (Bessie). Prod.: Sascha Kolowrat-Krakowsky per Sascha Film-Industrie AG. 35mm. L.: 1138 m (incompleto; l. orig.: 2350 m). 20 f/s. Col. (from a tinted nitrate print)

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

The leading role in this film is a femme fatale, impressively embodied by Lucy Doraine, who slips into various roles to use her feminine wiles to exploit every man she meets. As the title, the sexist French phrase ‘Cherchez la femme’  (literally ‘look for the woman’) already explains, the question of guilt is simple: just look for the woman and you know who is to blame. The filmmaker Mihály Kertész (better known as Michael Curtiz) came to Vienna in 1919 as a political refugee after Béla Kun seized power in Hungary. Shortly after his arrival he met with Austrian film tycoon Sascha Kolowrat-Krakowsky and was able to continue his interrupted career. Today his monumental films Sodom and Gomorrah and The Moon of Israel are the best known works from his Viennese period, but Kertész also shot smaller productions in Austria, which are for the most part unknown to international audiences. A tendency towards monumentality can already be seen in Cherchez la femme, in the gorgeous decor and costumes and the spectacular locations such as the Viennese palaces Schönbrunn and Belvedere. The film premiered in spring 1921, but sadly only 1,138 metres have survived of the original length of 2,350 metres.

The focus of the story is on the relation between the femme fatale and an escaped prisoner, who manages to save himself from the clutches of the vamp in the very last minute (no spoiler, the end of the film is missing!). A dream reveals to him the real nature of duchess Leda Orlonia/geisha/marchesa Rochefou, and he decides to leave the ‘woman with the many names’ for a kind-hearted and decent American girl. A contemporary critic from Austria was very impressed: “The adventurous, captivating plot unfolds in front of our eyes in a series of wonderful photographic recordings, and in this enchanting outer framework, the perfected and rounded game of the artist couple is sparkling and captivating.” There is no need to add anything to that from today’s point of view, except that it is always surprising how impudently men portray themselves as victims in femme fatale stories such as this one.

Karl Wratschko

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