1930s, Drama

Mädchen in Uniform

Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform) is a 1931 German feature-length film based on the play Gestern und heute (Yesterday and Today) by Christa Winsloe and directed by Leontine Sagan with artistic direction from Carl Froelich, who also funded the film. Winsloe also wrote the screenplay and was on the set during filming. The film remains an international cult classic.

Manuela von Meinhardis, whose mother had died when she was young and father serves in the military, is enrolled at an all-girls boarding school headed by the traditional and iron-fisted Fräulein von Nordeck zur Nidden. Manuela is immediately exposed to the strictness of the school when receiving her uniform and having many of her possessions taken from her. While the other girls at the school receive Manuela with open arms, she still feels very out of place, until she meets Fräulein von Bernburg, a teacher at the school. After witnessing Fräulein von Bernburg’s compassion for the other girls, Manuela develops a passionate love for her teacher. The first spark of love begins with a goodnight kiss. While the teacher normally gives all the girls a goodnight kiss on the forehead, Manuela receives one on the lips.

There is a meeting asking the teachers in the school and the headmistress. Fräulein von Bernburg advocates using compassion and love when dealing with the students, but is met with disagreement from the headmistress and the other teachers.

During class, the girls are reciting from an assigned reading. The girls who are called upon all know their recitations, except Manuela. After class, Fräulein von Bernburg calls for Manuela to meet her in her room. Manuela expects to be punished for not knowing the assigned material, but Fräulein von Bernburg comments on the state of the clothes the girl came to the school with, noting that there were many holes in them. Fräulein von Bernburg then gives one of her own petticoats to Manuela, at which she begins to weep. After much crying, Manuela confesses her love for Fräulein von Bernburg, and the teacher states that she loves Manuela but that she cannot give her special treatment because the other girls will be jealous.

The girls gather around Ilsa von Westhagen, another student, as she reads aloud a letter to her parents complaining about the conditions at the school. She has a worker at the school smuggle the letter out.

The girls are preparing to put on a play, Don Carlos, by Friedrich Schiller, for the birthday of the headmistress. Manuela plays Don Carlos, the lead male role. Ilsa is to play another major role in the play, but is barred from performing after her letter to her parents denouncing the school is returned because of a wrong address. Ilsa packs up to leave the school, but Fräulein von Bernburg convinces her to stay. The girls put on the play for the headmistress and her guests; it is a great success, with a standout performance by Manuela.

After the play, the girls all meet for dinner and are served punch with alcohol in it by the kitchen workers. After much dancing and singing, the girls ask Manuela about her relationship with Fräulein von Bernburg. Without knowing that the headmistress’s assistant is in the room, Manuela tells them of the petticoat that Fräulein von Bernburg gave her. Then, she declares that she is not afraid of anything or anyone—yelling it drunkenly in the direction of the headmistress, who has now entered the room.

After passing out, Manuela is brought to a room, where no-one is allowed to see her. She is scolded by the headmistress. The headmistress is then informed that the princess is on her way to the school to speak to her. The students and teachers all line up for the arrival of the princess. After observing all the students, she asks to see Manuela. The princess tells Manuela that she knew Manuela’s mother and respected her. The princess says that Manuela looks a little pale and asks whether she is sick, at which the headmistress rushes her away and denies any paleness.

After the meeting with the princess, the headmistress scolds Fräulein von Bernburg for being too close and compassionate with her students. She also tells her that she is never to speak to Manuela again. When Fräulein von Bernburg leaves the headmistress’s office, Manuela is waiting for her. Fräulein von Bernburg tells Manuela to meet her in her room. In her room, Fräulein von Bernburg tells Manuela that while she cares for her, she is to never speak to her again. Manuela responds by saying that she will die. Fräulein von Bernburg tells her not to say such things and sends her away. As Manuela leaves the room, the headmistress arrives to scold Fräulein von Bernburg for speaking to Manuela and says that she can no longer be a teacher at the school. Fräulein von Bernburg says that she could not continue there anyway, for she needs to stand for justice.

At this point, the girls are all looking for Manuela and cannot find her. Manuela has climbed up the main staircase and is ready to jump. Manuela is saved by the other students. The headmistress and Fräulein von Bernburg walk out of Fräulein von Bernburg’s room to discover a commotion and are then told that Manuela tried to jump and kill herself. The movie ends with all the girls watching the headmistress as she walks down the stairwell and down the hall in silence.

The film was groundbreaking in having an all-female cast; in its sympathetic portrayal of lesbian “pedagogical eros” (see Gustav Wyneken) and homoeroticism, revolving around the passionate love of a fourteen-year-old (Manuela) for her teacher (von Bernburg); and in its co-operative and profit-sharing financial arrangements (although these failed).

During an interview about the film decades later, Thiele said

The whole of Mädchen in Uniform was set in the Empress Augustaboarding school, where Winsloe was educated. Actually there really was a Manuela, who remained lame all of her life after she threw herself down the stairs. She came to the premiere of the film. I saw her from a distance, and at the time Winsloe told me, “The experience is one which I had to write from my heart.” Winsloe was a lesbian.

Thiele also said, “However, I really don’t want to make a great deal of […] or account for a film about lesbianism here. That’s far from my mind, because the whole thing of course is also a revolt against the cruel Prussian education system.”

After many screen tests, Winsloe had insisted that her friend Thiele play the lead role. Director Sagan would have preferred Gina Falckenberg who had done the role on stage in Berlin, but along with having played Manuela in Leipzig, Thiele had already played a young lesbian in Ferdinand Bruckner’s stage play Die Kreatur (The Creature) and although twenty-three years old when filming began, she was considered to be more capable of portraying a fourteen-year-old.

tumblr_nycm59Q4f61u1on4lo1_540tumblr_nycm59Q4f61u1on4lo3_540tumblr_nycm59Q4f61u1on4lo4_540

“What you call sin, I call the great spirit of love, which takes a thousand forms.”

Christa Winsloe who wrote the script had a rather sad end,She moved to France in the late 1930s, fleeing the Nazis. During World War II, she joined the French Resistance. Contrary to what is often stated, she was not executed by the Nazis. Instead, on June 10, 1944, Winsloe and her French partner, Simone Gentet, were shot and killed by four Frenchmen in a forest near the country town of Cluny. The men said that they had thought the women were Nazi spies, and were later acquitted of murder.

Christa Winsloe (1888-1944)

 

Standard
1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, Fashion

Tilly Losch

 

Tilly Losch (1903-1975), born Ottilie Ethel Leopoldine Losch in Vienna, Austria into a Jewish family, she was a dancer, choreographer, actress and painter who lived and worked for most of her life in the United States and United Kingdom.

Her second husband was Henry Herbert, 6th Earl of Carnarvon they were married from 1939 until their divorce in 1947.

Standard
1930s, Comedy, Fashion

The Women

The Women is a 1939 American comedy-drama film directed by George Cukor. The film is based on Clare Boothe Luce’s play of the same name, and was adapted for the screen by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin, who had to make the film acceptable for the Production Code in order for it to be released.

The film stars Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, Lucile Watson, Mary Boland, Florence Nash, and Virginia Grey, as well as Marjorie Main and Phyllis Povah, the last two of whom reprised their stage roles from the play. Ruth Hussey, Virginia Weidler, Butterfly McQueen, and Hedda Hopper also appeared in smaller roles. Fontaine was the last surviving actress with a credited role in the film; she died in 2013.

The film continued the play’s all-female tradition—the entire cast of more than 130 speaking roles was female. Set in the glamorous Manhattan apartments of high society evoked by Cedric Gibbons, and in Reno where they obtain their divorces, it presents an acidic commentary on the pampered lives and power struggles of various rich, bored wives and other women they come into contact with.

I am the man I want to marry!

Sylvia Fowler

Throughout The Women, not a single male is seen — although the males are much talked about, and the central theme is the women’s relationships with them. Lesbianism is intimated in the portrayal of only one character, Nancy Blake. The attention to detail was such that even in props such as portraits only female figures are represented, and several animals which appeared as pets were also female. The only exceptions are a poster-drawing clearly of a bull in the fashion show segment and an ad on the back of the magazine Peggy reads at Mary’s house before lunch.

Sylvia Fowler: Oh, you remember the awful things they said about what’s-her-name before she jumped out the window? There. You see? I can’t even remember her name so who cares?

Filmed in black and white, it includes a ten-minute fashion parade filmed in Technicolor, featuring Adrian’s most outré designs; often cut in modern screenings, it has been restored by Turner Classic Movies. On DVD, the original black and white fashion show, which is a different take, is available for the first time.

Nancy Blake: You just can’t bear Mary’s happiness, can you, Sylvia? It gets you down.

Sylvia Fowler: How ridiculous! Why should it?

Nancy Blake: Because she’s contented. Contented to be what she is.

Sylvia Fowler: Which is what?

Nancy Blake: A woman.

Sylvia Fowler: Ah! And what are we?

Nancy Blake: Females.

Sylvia Fowler: Really. And what are you, pet?

Nancy Blake: What nature abhors: I’m an old maid, a frozen asset.

The Women follows the lives of Manhattan women, focusing in particular on Mary Haines (Norma Shearer), the cheerful, contented wife of Stephen and mother of Little Mary (Virginia Weidler). After a bit of gossip flies around the salon these wealthy women visit, Mary’s cousin Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell) goes to a Salon to get the newest, exclusive nail color: Jungle Red. She learns from a manicurist that Mary’s husband has been having an affair with a predatory perfume counter girl named Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford). A notorious gossip, Sylvia delights in sharing the news with Mary’s friends; she sets up Mary with an appointment with the same manicurist so that she hears the rumor about Stephen’s infidelity.

While Mary’s mother (Lucile Watson) urges her to ignore the gossip, Mary begins to have her own suspicions about her husband’s increasingly frequent claims that he needs to work late. She decides to travel to Bermuda with her mother to think about the situation and hope the rumors will fade. Upon her return, Mary heads to a fashion show and learns that Crystal is in attendance, trying on clothes in a dressing room. Mary, at Sylvia’s insistence, confronts her about the affair, but Crystal is completely unapologetic and slyly suggests that Mary keep the status quo unless she wants to lose Stephen in a divorce. Heartbroken and humiliated, Mary leaves quickly. The gossip continues, exacerbated by Sylvia and her friend Edith (Phyllis Povah), who turns the affair into a public scandal by recounting Sylvia’s version of the story to a notorious gossip columnist. Mary chooses to divorce her husband despite his efforts to convince her to stay. As she is packing to leave for Reno, Mary explains the divorce to Little Mary.

Sylvia Fowler: [Holding up a bottle of Summer Rain perfume] A friend of ours, Mrs. Stephen Haines, simply dotes on this.

Crystal Allen: Really!

Sylvia Fowler: Her husband picked it out for her. Perhaps you sold it to him. Stephen Haines, the engineer?

Crystal Allen: Oh, I’m afraid I don’t remember. You see, we have so many men come in here.

Sylvia Fowler: Awfully good-looking. Tall, fair, distinguished. I’m sure you wouldn’t overlook him.

Crystal Allen: I’m sorry, but when one’s mind is on one’s own business…

Sylvia Fowler: Of course. And, as you say, you have so many men.

On the train to Reno where she will get her divorce, Mary meets several women with the same destination and purpose: the dramatic, extravagant Countess de Lave (Mary Boland); Miriam Aarons (Paulette Goddard), a tough-cookie chorus girl; and, to her surprise, her friend Peggy Day (Joan Fontaine), a shy young woman. Mary and her new friends settle in at a Reno ranch, where they get plenty of unsolicited advice from Lucy (Marjorie Main), the gruffly warm-hearted woman who runs the ranch. The Countess tells tales of her multiple husbands and seems to have found another prospect in Reno, a cowboy named Buck Winston. Miriam reveals she has been having an affair with Sylvia Fowler’s husband and plans to marry him. Peggy, who has discovered that she is pregnant, is urged to call her husband, resolve their misunderstanding and end the divorce proceedings. She succeeds. Sylvia arrives at the ranch, now that her husband has requested a divorce (“Well, girls: move over”). When she discovers that Miriam is to become the new Mrs. Fowler, a catfight ensues. Mary succeeds in breaking up the fight. Miriam convinces her that she, too, should forget her pride, get her husband on the phone and try to patch things up before their divorce becomes legal in a few hours. Before Mary can decide, it rings — the call is from Stephen, who informs Mary that he and Crystal have just been married.

Two years pass. At the Haines apartment, Crystal, now Mrs. Haines, is taking a bubble bath and talking on the phone to her lover, who turns out to be Buck Winston, now the husband of the Countess and a successful radio star. Little Mary overhears the conversation before being shooed away by Crystal, who, not surprisingly, has no time or patience for the child. Sylvia figures out with whom Crystal has been speaking and is having an affair. Still an unrelenting gossip, Sylvia tucks this information away for later use. Mary hosts a dinner for her Reno friends to celebrate the two-year anniversary of the Countess and Buck, after which the Countess, Miriam, and Peggy go to a nightclub and urge Mary to come along. Mary decides to stay home. She chats with Little Mary, who inadvertently reveals how unhappy Stephen is and mentions Crystal’s “lovey dovey” talk with Buck on the telephone. This news changes Mary’s mind about the party. She gets dressed up, intent on fighting to get her ex back: “I’ve had two years to grow claws, Mother — Jungle Red!”

Exercise instructress: Mrs. Fowler you’ve hardly moved a muscle.

Sylvia Fowler: Whose carcass is this, yours or mine?

Exercise instructress: It’s yours, but I’m paid to exercise it.

Sylvia Fowler: You sound like a horse trainer.

Exercise instructress: No, Mrs. Fowler, but you’re getting warm.

At the nightclub (in the Ladies room), Mary worms the details of the affair out of Sylvia, then makes sure that a gossip columnist (played by a real-life one, Hedda Hopper) is alerted to it. Mary tells the Countess that her husband Buck has been having an affair with Crystal, then informs Crystal that everyone knows what she’s been doing. Crystal doesn’t care and tells Mary she can have Stephen back, since she’ll now have Buck to support her. The Countess reveals that she has been funding Buck’s radio career and that with Crystal he will be penniless and out of a job. Crystal resigns herself to the fact that she’ll be heading back to the perfume counter, adding: “And by the way, there’s a name for you ladies, but it isn’t used in high society — outside of a kennel.”

Sylvia Fowler: [At the place Crystal Allen works] Well, here we are… Creeping up on her!

Edith Potter: Darling do you think we ought to do this?

Sylvia Fowler: Oh shut up!

Edith Potter: [Spots lady] That’s little Crystal!

Sylvia Fowler: None other…

Ugly saleswoman: [Turns around] May I serve you madam?

Edith Potter: [Surprised] No, thank you!

Sylvia Fowler: [Surprised] Just looking!

[Walking away]

Sylvia Fowler: Oh from the neck up I’d say no…

[Spots other woman]

Sylvia Fowler: Ah, how about baby?

Edith Potter: Of course!

[Walks over to her]

Edith Potter: Mmmm… Couldn’t be anyone else!

[Hears other lady call her “Pat”]

Sylvia Fowler: Pat?

Edith Potter: I still don’t know why he overlooked her.

Sylvia Fowler: I do…

[points to Crystal]

Sylvia Fowler: Pipe.

Mary, triumphant, heads out the door and up the stairs to win back Stephen, who is waiting for her.

Standard