Thursday, June 29, 2017

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2016) by Year - 0180 - PUPPE, DIE / THE DOLL (Ernst Lubitsch, 1919, Germany, 48m, BW)



(Ernst Lubitsch, 1919, Germany, 48m, BW)


PUPPE, DIE / THE DOLL (Ernst Lubitsch, 1919, Germany, 48m, BW)

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Produced by Paul Davidson
Written by Novel:
E.T.A. Hoffmann
La poupée
by Edmond Audran
Maurice Ordonneau
Alfred Maria Willner
Hanns Kräly
Ernst Lubitsch
Starring Ossi Oswalda
Hermann Thimig
Victor Janson
Cinematography Theodor Sparkuhl
Kurt Waschneck
Distributed by UFA (US)
Release date
Running time
58 minutes
Country Weimar Republic
Language Silent film


The timid nephew of a Baron takes refuge in a monastery when his uncle seeks to force the young man into marrying.  When the monks discover that the baron is offering a huge dowry to the woman who marries the nephew, they convince the young man to get the money by marrying a life-like automaton created by a doll maker named Hilarius.  The nephew marries the automaton, unaware that the doll-maker's daughter has actually substituted herself for the automaton.


Ernst Lubitsch's movies don't venture into the fantastic genres very often; this is only the third one I've seen for this series. The other two are considered his two weakest movies by IMDB; this one is easily the best of the bunch. At first I was wondering how much fantastic content there would be; the first description merely talked about the man marrying a doll who wasn't really a doll, which by itself  doesn't make it qualify, but the elaborateness of the automatons here does push it into science fiction territory. 

Furthermore, the whole movie is shot in a non-realistic style in much of the same manner as THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI was, though the style is markedly different. The non-realistic approach manifests itself in some interesting ways; the horse-drawn carriage is being drawn by two sets of men in horse suits, and it's a tribute to how well the movie works that you're willing to buy into it. There's also some animation and stop-motion sequences as well. I found the movie highly amusing; Lubitsch does a great job of getting wonderful reactions from his character, and Ossi Oswalda steals the movie in an excellent performance as the girl pretending to be an automaton. This one was delightful.

Die Puppe is a lot of fun, and manages to contain quite a few laughs despite its age. It pre-dates the German impressionist movement with its painted sets, although the designs in Die Puppe are much lighter and more like a fairy tale. In fact, Lubitsch makes a deliberate effort to avoid reality throughout the movie, despite some darker elements creeping in at times. For example, the apprentice, distraught at breaking Hilarius’s doll, repeatedly attempts to commit suicide by drinking paint (Lubitsch combines this with humour by having Hilarius scold the child for trying to waste expensive paint). Seconds after this, he might cut to a comical shot of a horse — clearly two men in a pantomime suit — sitting on its haunches. In the hands of some this blending of darkly bizarre touches with childlike humour wouldn’t work, but Lubitsch somehow manages to keep the overall tone light and humorous.

Ossi Oswalda, a regular leading lady for Lubitsch early in his career, provides a decent performance as the girl who masquerades as a doll, even though her comic style is perhaps a little too broad for modern tastes, with exaggerated gestures and face-pulling. She does have nice legs, though; an attribute Lubitsch seems keen to show off whenever he can. It’s Ritterband, as the mischievous apprentice, who steals the movie, however, and on the strength of his performance here it’s a shame that he didn’t go on to have a more distinguished screen career.


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