Heaven on Earth

When one thinks of German silent films of the late 1920s it's the dramatic and spectacular ones that come to mind, such as Lang and Murnau's epics. But Germans do have a sense of humour, and there were lively and often satirical comedy films as well. A rare one turned up at the National Film Theatre yesterday evening - Heaven on Earth (Der Himmel auf Erden), made in 1927. It starred Reinhold Schünzel, who acted in many films, and also directed a number: he is best remembered now as the corrupt Police Chief 'Tiger Brown' in Pabst's Die 3-Groschenoper, and for directing Viktor und Viktoria (1933, later remade as Victor/Victoria, 1982).

In Heaven on Earth he plays Bellman, a member of Parliament who takes an anti-alcohol and anti-nightclub stance - particularly against the notorious club 'Heaven on Earth'. He has just married his straight-laced fiancee and made his maiden speech in Parliament when he discovers that his deceased brother has left him not only 500,000 marks but that very nightclub - on condition that he attends the nightclub every night from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Reluctantly he does so, making the deadline on the first night by the skin of his teeth and leaving his newlywed wife wondering where he is.

Inevitably his life as a nightclub owner (which of course he is trying to hide from his wife - Charlotte Ander - and her pompous father - Otto Wallburg) spills into his private life, with a jazz band, chorus girls and a monkey act turning up at his house. Complications ensue: in the end his father-in-law suspects something and turns up at the club - Bellman has to dress up as a woman to hide from him: of course the father-in-law then makes a pass at him (in farces putting on a dress and a wig makes you unrecognizable even to people who know you well). When he finally admits to who he is he discovers his wife has arrived... of course all ends happily.

It's an amusing enough farce, and well played, but it could have done with snappier direction: it didn't actually get an enormous amount of laughter from the audience. Oddly, it was shown as part of the 22nd London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (no, I just wanted to see the film) - one wonders why, since no-one in the film is gay, the drag sequence is pure pantomime dame, and the only time the subject is even vaguely approached is when for a brief moment his wife thinks she has married a cross-dresser. However, worth seeing as a major rarity (and a nice clean print).

One other point of interest: the manager of the night-club is a portly middle-aged actor called Szöke Szakall - none other than the well-known elderly Hollywood character actor S.Z. ('Cuddles') Sakall - the head waiter in Casablanca, the shop owner in In The Good Old Summertime, and many others - barely recognizable in this early part of his career.

Posted: Wed - April 9, 2008 at 09:26 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM