August 2, 2021

The Doll – Political Animal

The doll

Original title: The doll

Production: Germany, 1919

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Guión: Hanns Kräly, Ernst Lubitsch (History: ETA Hoffmann. Work: AE Willner)

Photography: Theodor Sparkuhl

Con: Ossi Oswalda, Hermann Thimig, Victor Janson, Gerhard Ritterband, Marga Köhler, Jakob Tiedtke, Max Kronert

Synopsis: Lancelot has no interest in getting married, but his uncle, the Baron de Chanterelle, wants him to marry immediately, to continue the family’s descent. He publishes an edict, so that the young women of marriageable age appear in the square, so that his nephew chooses his future wife.

Dozens of marriageable women meet, but Lancelot flees and takes refuge in a convent of lazy and gluttonous monks. The superior tells him that the community is very poor and is in a serious economic crisis. In the community and he is destined, to work in the kitchen.

The uncle, who is looking for Lancelot everywhere, publishes an advertisement in the newspaper saying that if he shows up to marry, he will give him his fortune. One of the monks sees the advertisement. In a community meeting they decide that the new monk should marry and donate the money to the community.

A monk knows that there is a doll factory and Lancelot can buy one and on his return, already with her, simulate a wedding, to receive the money. He travels to the factory of Hilarius, the artist who makes them, and buys one. The manufacturer’s assistant drops it and breaks it.

Ossi, the daughter of Hilarius, lends herself to pose as a doll, so that the sale takes place. She has fallen in love with the young buyer. Only she and the assistant know that. Lancelot takes the doll. He arrives with his uncle who is very ill in bed and he gets up. The wedding is organized and celebrated.

After the ceremony, Lancelot takes his doll to the convent. Already in her cell she discovers that she is not such but a woman of flesh and blood. The couple flees the place by jumping over the fence.

Commentary: When Ernst Lubitsch (1882-1947) made this film in Germany in 1919, he was already recognized as a director. German expressionism is on the rise, but he decides to tackle comedy. In the film, which is silent, the resources of the genre that he creates are already present and that will soon be imitated by Hollywood. This is what will be called the “Lubitsch touch”. In the twenties of the last century he moved to work in the United States, but he also continued filming in Germany.

The doll, like all Lubitsch comedies, it is simple in construction, but with a script that tells a complex story with various subtopics. In a few features he draws very well-defined characters that call for laughter. In this case the portrait he makes of the gluttonous monks; of the artist Hilarius always exaggerated in his ways; of his mischievous and vivacious intelligence assistant; of Ossi, the young woman in love with Lancelot; of the Baron de Chanterelle his uncle who does not want to die without family offspring and of Lancelot, who is naive and is afraid of women.

In Lubitsch’s films, the setting is a central theme. The indoor and outdoor settings are carefully designed. On The doll Noteworthy are Hilarius’s workshop, the bedroom of the Baron de Chanterelle, the convent and also the place where the marriageable girls chase Lancelot, an obvious cardboard scenography, and the horse-drawn cart, which are people disguised as such.

The sets contribute to the construction of an unreal atmosphere, typical of stories. In the kitchen, for example, the pots and pans are drawn on the wall and also the sun and the moon that appear on the full screen. The director intends, in the game of real objects and others that are only drawn, to create the sensation of the unreal, as in stories, so that the characters and spaces are drawings that suddenly come to life and become part of reality.

The central axis of The doll is the game, which is very funny, between the character of the robot doll and the woman of flesh and blood that are the same. That lends itself to continual comic situations. Ossi, Hilarius’s daughter, has to pass herself off as the robot doll her father designed and let others believe. It makes the rigid and mechanical movements that correspond to it. You must always be careful not to appear like a real woman, so as not to be discovered.

Lubitsch’s characters, typical of silent films, use expressive mimicry that is very theatrical, but they are silent film actors and not theater ones. It makes them move on stage, always from a script, in an agile and very diverse way. They do everything. They jump, run, dance, fall and get up and this always with the purpose of having fun and making people laugh.

The live score for the film was in charge of The Musicians of José. The program says that this group “makes powerful instrumental music similar to the funk directed to the feet, the guts and the two hemispheres of the brain ”. The group, on stage, sounded very good and their proposal accompanied the development of the film. He made one with it, I liked it.

Once again, a film from the silent film era opened, on August 9, the XVII German Film Week at the Esperanza Iris City Theater. The one in Mexico is the largest and most important exhibition of German cinema abroad. At the end, Sybille and I went to the Bar Bach, near the theater, where there was a toast to the start of the show.


Ernst Lubitsch (Berlin, 1882-Los Angeles, California, 1947). He studied at the Sophien Institute in Berlin. At the age of 16 he began working as an actor and from 1911 at Max Reinhardt’s Deutsches Teather. In 1912 he entered the cinema. In 1913 he created the comic character of a Jew. From 1914 to 1922, he made 50 films in Germany. In 1921 he made his first trip to the United States on that occasion he attended the filming of Griffith’s Two Orphans.

Since 1922, he is 30 years old, he moves permanently to the United States. It is his turn to make silent films and then sound films. It stands out, as in Germany, in the genre of comedy. As a supervisor for Paramount, he helped promising youngsters fleeing Nazism. This is the case of Billy Wilder and Otto Preminger. His latest films are Cluny Brown’s Sin (1946) and The Lady with the Ermine (1948), which he could no longer conclude.

His work is characterized by what has come to be called the “Lubitsch touch”. It refers to the ability to suggest more than what is taught. The viewer must imagine what is missing. Of that “touch” it is also said that the narrative has: “the subtle ingredients of irony, pathos, bitterness and laughter, all in one; very often it is the more emotional than visual sarcasm that springs from an impossible situation that can degrade the hero or disqualify the genius ”.

@RubenAguilar

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