Wednesday, July 5, 2017

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2016) by Year - 0227 - BERGKATZE, DIE (Ernst Lubitsch, 1921, Germany, 79m, BW)



(Ernst Lubitsch, 1921, Germany, 79m, BW)


BERGKATZE, DIE (Ernst Lubitsch, 1921, Germany, 79m, BW)

Die Bergkatze (1921)
aka Wildcat, The (1921)
aka Lo scoiattolo (1921)
aka Die Bergkatze (1921)
aka Wildcat, The (1921)

Short, Comedy
18 April 1921 (USA)

A drifter at an amusement park finds himself both the bodyguard and hit man of a man targeted by a criminal gang.

Directors: Edward F. Cline (as Eddie Cline), Buster Keaton (as 'Buster' Keaton)
Writers: Edward F. Cline (as Eddie Cline), Buster Keaton (as 'Buster' Keaton)
Stars: Buster Keaton, Bartine Burkett, Charles Dorety


Act I

The commander of an isolated border fortress receives word that a Lieutenant Alexis has been assigned there as punishment. This delights his wife and daughter. Elsewhere, vast mobs of women line the streets to bid Alexis goodbye (as does a horde of young children who call him Daddy).

Act II

On the sleigh ride to his new posting, Alexis is pelted by a snowball by a young woman. When he gets out of the sleigh, he is surrounded by armed men, part of a gang of feared robbers nominally led by Claudius, but in reality under the bidding of his daughter, Rischka. Rischka forces Alexis to take off his uniform. He nonchalantly kisses her hand anyway. When one of the men draws his dagger, Rischka intervenes and lets Alexis go unharmed, in his "underclothes".


When Alexis arrives at the fort, Lilli, the commander's daughter, likes what she sees. The commander sends Alexis with a large musical band and a smaller detachment of soldiers to punish the robbers, but despite being outnumbered, Rischka and her men have little trouble routing their attackers. When the soldiers return to the fort, their commander assumes they have been victorious and gives Alexis Lilli's hand in marriage as a reward. None of the men bother to correct him.

There is a great celebration, with fireworks, an orchestra, dancing and drinking. Rischka sneaks into the fortress with some of the robbers and proceeds to loot a bedroom. She puts on a dress she finds there, and the men don uniforms; then they all join the party. Alexis spots her and gives chase, finally trapping her in a room. They embrace, but then he decides his duty requires him to turn her in. He locks her in, but a jealous Lilli later opens the room and makes Rischka leave before Alexis returns with soldiers.

Act IV

Claudius also decides it is time for his daughter to marry. The robbers remind him that he promised one of them the honor. When Rischka demands to know who it will be, all but one slink away. Only Pepo remains. Rischka does not take him seriously, until he unexpectedly knocks her down and drags her away by her legs. Shocked at first by this atypical behavior, she eventually showers him with kisses, and they embrace in the snow. As part of the wedding ceremony, Claudius chains the couple together at the wrist. However, Rischka becomes sad when she reads of the betrothal of Alexis and Lilli. Seeing this, Pepo unchains her.

She goes to Alexi's suite. He is glad to see her, and goes to change into something more comfortable. While he is gone, Lilli arrives. Seeing her rival, she bursts into tears, causing Rischka to promise to make things right (though she does steal Lilli's necklace while comforting her). When Alexis returns, Rischka acts so boorishly that he becomes disgusted. She returns to Pepo, while Alexis greets Lilli more warmly.


A classic anti-military satire directed by Ernst Lubitsch ("Trouble in Paradise"/Design for Living"/"The Shop Around the Corner") and cowritten by him and Hanns Kräly that was restored in 2000 in Berlin. Its witty dialogue is rhymed like an operetta and it describes itself as "a grotesque in four acts." The military fort is done up with corkscrew staircases in an art deco fashion, most of the shots are taken on weird Caligari angles, and it's filmed in a masterful German expressionist style. 

German director Ernst Lubitsch was fashioning hyperactive comedies like I Don’t Want to Be a Man, The Oyster Princess and The Wildcat, a slapdash comedy that brands itself a ‘grotesque in four parts.’ The film stars Pola Negri, an early collaborator of Lubitsch, whom he seemed to consider interchangeable with Ossi Oswalda. Negri plays Rischka, the daughter of Claudius (Wilhelm Diegelmann — Anna Boleyn), who’s the leader of a group of mountain bandits in a fictional, fairy-tale kingdom. She falls for the dashing Lieutenant Alexis (Paul Heidemann), an office sent to a remote fort as punishment for his womanising ways, and prevents the bandits from killing him when they relieve him of his belongings. However, Alexis finds himself betrothed to Lilli (Edith Meller), the daughter of the fort’s cowardly Commandant (Victor Janson — Die Puppe, The Oyster Princess).

Lubitsch seems to devote as much attention to masking the frame of the shots as he did to the screenplay (which he co-wrote with Hans Kraly), using every shape imaginable to frame the action. Presumably, it was to add to the film’s air of zaniness, which is also apparent in the broad performances of the stars and the elaborate sets. The humour is broad and ferocious, but it quickly grows old so that we’re soon wishing Lubitsch would just get on with telling the story.  

There's an hilarious military expedition after the bandits, as the troops show how cowardly they are in battle but nevertheless at the end of the day claim victory. Rischka and five bandits sneak into the fort and drink with the drunken commandant and rob the place blind, while she becomes aware of her femininity by using Lilli's perfumes, makeup and trying on her fine dresses. She attracts Alexis and boldly kisses him. But after returning to the bandit's hideout and after dreaming about marrying him, in the end class differences are too great for Rischka and Alexis to cross in the real world and she departs leaving him for her fellow slovenly bandits. In a surprising unhappy ending in this subversive and very funny film, where not only is the military mocked but also the institution of marriage—Alexis marries the dull Lilli.


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