Ernst Lubitsch

Scen.: Ernst Lubitsch, Hanns Kräly. F.: Theodor Sparkuhl. Scgf.: Ernst Stern, Max Gronau. Int.: Pola Negri (Rischka), Paul Heidemann (Alexis), Victor Janson (il comandante), Marga Köhler (sua moglie), Edith Meller (Lilli), Hermann Thimig (Pepo), Wilhelm Diegelmann (Claudius). Prod.: Projektions-AG Union (PAGU). 35mm. L.: 1935 m. D.: 85’ a 20 f/s. Bn

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

Lubitsch grasped the talents of his stars as no other and brought them to their highest achievements. For Pola Negri he created the finest role of her career: fierce Rischka, the robber chief’s daughter. Among goofy soldiers skidding on the ice and dwarflike robbers tumbling through the snow, Rischka radiates authority. She is well-practised in handling guns, snowballs and whips, and the adoration of the robbers (her father included) for the magnificent Rischka-Pola is intermingled with fear. “She has drive!”, exclaims the impressed operetta lieutenant, who considers himself irresistible, after Rischka has thrown him down a steep slope. On a foray, she chucks the furniture of the garrison castle out of the windows, quite the industrious housewife. It splinters in front of her waiting accomplices, and seeing it splinter makes us happy. Visual jokes, surprises and a spirit of relentless satire make this a unique and very underrated film. Art director Ernst Stern designed the castle, extravagant as a tiered cake, whose curves can serve as half-pipes and swings. Lubitsch kept the plot at a minimum, loosely stitching scenes together and giving free rein to his exuberant ideas: a concerto of snowmen, a wedding staged as a funeral, and much ridiculing of the military. (And this was three years after the war: the film was not well received.)
We viewers immediately lose the thread, since there is none, and do the right thing: we watch and try not to miss any of this fantastic fun. Amid the clamour, Pola glows with warm sensuality. The way she pours perfume into her bosom and moves like a bird enjoying its sand bath, or the way she kindly comforts her crying rival while at the same time deftly – woman’s work is never done – relieving her of her pearls… such moments are enduring gifts to the audience from a great director and a wonderful actress.
The realm of the vamp is the melodrama; time and again, the femme fatale makes men miserable and meets a miserable end. In this thoroughly anticlassical comedy, Lubitsch expresses his great admiration for his heroine and for women in general – celebrating their erotic strength, good sense and prowess. A must-see.

Mariann Lewinsky

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