Deutsche Film-Gemeinschaft, 1931. Directed by
Leontine Sagan, Carl Froelich. Camera: Reimar Kuntze, Franz
Weihmayr. With Hertha Thiele, Dorothea Wieck, Emilia Unda, Gertrud de
Lalsky, Marte Hein, Hedwig Schlichter, Lene Berdolt, Lisi Scheerbach,
Margory Bodker, Erika Mann, Else Ehser.
The original play "Gestern und Morgen" had
its premiere in 1930 and was an immediate success. This prompted Carl
Froelich to adapt the play for film. Both leading actress of the
play Hertha Thiele (her first film) and the original director of the
play Leontine Sagan (also her first film) were invited to join.
The direction was split into direction of the cast and mise-en-scene by
Leontine Sagan and overall direction by Carl Froelich; this means that
Froelich was responsible for the overall quality of the film (in German:
The play as well as the later novel emphasizes the sexual/lesbian love
theme, but the film adaptation was toned down; the original sad end was
replaced by a happy end. Though the film goes as far as it can in
its theme of (awakening) lesbian feelings and sexual feelings of young
girls in general, shifting emphasis automatically meant concentrating on
the theme of the cold and inhumane authoritarian (Prussian) way of life
and upbringing, a way of thinking still present in the Weimar republic
and in 1931 already considered a danger to the young republic.
Then audiences were more interested in this aspect than in the sexual
one. Despite this it still remains a remarkable film of the Weimar
period in depicting the more loosening attitude towards sexuality in
general as well as the dismissal of the old authoritarian life style,
though, and this is the weak point of the premise, it never succeeds in
relating the two. A political stand this film certainly takes not,
but, as the original title "Yesterday and Tomorrow" says, this film
makes a plea for a more liberal and humane society. Of course the
film was banned after the Nazi take-over (though for some obscure reason
Goebbels liked the film "as film").
The old way of thinking is shown in some remarkable images. The
opening of the film, after some shots of Potsdam, shows first the
marching of soldiers than cuts to a walk of the girls; the girls do not
walk, but march as the soldiers do. The Prussian authority is
represented by the Frau Oberin whose presence in the film is that like
an average hard boiled Prussian king (and not unlike Frederick the
Great, the king who was depicted in nationalist films in the 20' and
30's a number of times)); her hairdo is not simply a way to wear one's
hair, it fits like a crown on her head. When she presides a
meeting with the other teachers, she presides as a queen, sitting
slightly above the level of the teachers. Fear for authority is
conveyed through the Von Kenten character whose physical attitude
constantly is that of a writhed of fear, human being.
Note the military trumpet in the final scene (one of the examples of the
excellent use of sound) as Frau Oberin walks resigned through the
corridor: there may have been a small relapse in the system within the
institution, the trumpet tells us that outside things are still
The direction of Sagan/Froelich and the cinematography are outstanding,
but it could never have become the classic it is if both
Hertha Thiele and
Dorothea Wieck had not been in the lead. Photogenic Thiele
plays Manuela as a sensitive, but still proud girl; Wieck gives the Von
Bernburg character all the subtleties and uncertainties it needs.
But let's not forget the completely forgotten actress Ellen von
Schwannecke as a wonderful Ilse. Thiele and Wieck would repeat
their co-operation in an amazing film by Frank Wysbar (one of the
producers of "Mädchen"): Anna und Elisabeth (1933), also a film
with a lesbian theme.
A very odd aspect is also noteworthy. The four main people
involved can be divided in 2 sub groups: Hertha Thiele and Leontine
Sagan went into exile in 1933 and were not to have a career after 1945
in West-Germany, while Dorothea Wieck and Carl Froelich (he became
member of the NSDAP) continued their careers in Nazi Germany and after
1945. Convinced of it that involvement in this film also meant
according its basic ideas (remember that it was not an established
production company that made the film, but a collective), this split-up
of minds can almost be seen as symbol for the schism in Germany.
For a complete understanding of this film and the play I recommend to
read the novel as well.