03 October 2022

Brigitte Helm

We're in Pordenone, Italy, for Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. One of the sections is 'The Canon Revisited' and the highlight for us is Manolescu - Der König der Hochstapler/Manolescu, the Prince of Adventures (Viktor Tourjansky, 1929) with Ivan Mozzhukhin. Female star is the sophisticated German actress Brigitte Helm (1906-1996). She is a legend because of her dual role as the noble Maria and as her evil double, the hypersexed robot Maria in Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927). After her debut in this silent science-fiction classic, she starred in over 30 films in which she often portrayed a cool, unobtainable vamp. Helm easily made the transition to sound film, but in 1935 she suddenly retired.

Ivan Mozzhukhin and Brigitte Helm in Manolescu - Der König der Hochstapler (1929)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4531/1. Photo: Ufa. Ivan Mozzhukhin and Brigitte Helm in Manolescu - Der König der Hochstapler/Manolescu, the Prince of Adventures (Viktor Tourjansky, 1929).

Brigitte Helm in Metropolis (1927)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 71/12. Photo: Ufa / Parufamet. Brigitte Helm in Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927). Collection: Didier Hanson.

Brigitte Helm
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1481/1, 1927-1928. Photo: Ufa.

Brigitte Helm
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4146/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Ufa.

Brigitte Helm
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4292/2, 1929-1930. Photo: Ufa.

Brigitte Helm
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4292/4, 1929-1930. Photo: Ufa.

Brigitte Helm
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4876/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Ufa-Harlip.

Metropolis


Brigitte Helm was born as Brigitte Eva Gisela Schittenhelm in Berlin, Germany, in 1906 (some sources say 1908). Her father was a Prussian army officer, who left his wife a widow not long after.

Brigitte gained her acting experience in school productions but never thought of acting classes. After her school exams, she wanted to be an astronomer. But then she was discovered by the famous director Fritz Lang for the lead in Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927), then the most expensive German film ever made.

Her mother had sent a photograph of her beautiful 16-years-old daughter to Lang's wife, scriptwriter Thea von Harbou. Helm was invited to the set of Die Nibelungen and was given a screen test. She got the double role of the noble and virginal Maria and her evil and sensual twin, the Maschinenmensch, a robot created to urge the workers in revolting and destroying their own city.

In their 1996 obituary in The New York Times, Robert McThomas and Peter Herzog note: "The film depicts the world of 2006, a time, Lang envisioned, when a ruling class lives in decadent luxury in the loft heights of skyscrapers linked by aerial railways, while beneath the streets slave-like workers toll in unbearable conditions to sustain their masters.

But for all the steam and special effects, for many who have seen the movie in it various incarnations, including a tinted version and one accompanied by music, the most compelling lingering image is neither the towers above nor the hellish factories below. It is the staring transformation of Ms. Helm from an idealistic young woman into a barely clad creature performing a lascivious dance in a brothel." Metropolis made Brigitte Helm a star overnight.

Rudolf Klein-Rogge and Brigitte Helm in Metropolis (1926)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 71/6. Photo: Parufamet / Ufa. Rudolf Klein-Rogge and Brigitte Helm in Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1926). Collection: Marlene Pilaete.

Brigitte Helm in Die Herrin von Atlantis (1932)
Dutch postcard by Filma. Brigitte Helm in Die Herrin von Atlantis/Lost Atlantis (Georg Wilhelm Pabst, 1932). Caption: Friday 6 December Premiere at the Tuschinski Theatre. Collection: Marlene Pilaete.

Brigitte Helm in L'argent (1928)
French postcard by Europe, no. 401. Photo: Studio Lorelle, Paris. Brigitte Helm in L'Argent/The Money (Marcel L’ Herbier, 1928). Collection: Marlene Pilaete.

Brigitte Helm in The Blue Danube (1931)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 7882/1, 1932-1933. Photo: British European Film. Brigitte Helm in The Blue Danube (Herbert Wilcox, 1931). Collection: Marlene Pilaete.

Brigitte Helm and Sybille Schmitz in Ein idealer Gatte (1935)
Latvian postcard by EMBR, no. 1213. Photo: Ufa. Brigitte Helm and Sybille Schmitz in Ein idealer Gatte/An Ideal Husband (Herbert Selpin, 1935). Collection: Marlene Pilaete.

Brigitte Helm by Nino Za.
Italian postcard by Eliocromia Zacchetti e C. Milano, no. A57. Brigitte Helm by Nino Za. Collection: Marlene Pilaete.

Ice Queen


UFA gave Brigitte Helm a contract, and over the next 10 years, she acted in 29 German, French, and English films.

She was cast as the evil but oh so seductive protagonist in the Sci-Fi-horror film Alraune. First in the silent version of 1928, directed by Henrik Galeen.

Hal Erickson at AllMovie: "Hanns Heinz Ewers' grim science-fiction novel 'Alraune' has already been filmed twice when this version was assembled in 1928. In another of his 'mad doctor' roles, Paul Wegener plays Professor Brinken, the sociopathic scientist who combines the genes of an executed murderer with those of a prostitute.

The result is a beautiful young woman named Alraune (Brigitte Helm), who is incapable of feeling any real emotions - least of all guilt or regret. Upon attaining adulthood, Alraune sets about to seduce and destroy every male who crosses her path. Ultimately, Professor Brinken is hoist on his own petard when he falls hopelessly in love with Alraune himself."

Two years later Helm also starred in the sound version, Alraune/A Daughter of Destiny (Richard Oswald, 1930), for which the Dutch postcard lower in this post was made.

Brigitte Helm
French postcard by P.C. Paris, no. 30. Photo: Ufa.

Brigitte Helm
French postcard, no. 93. Photo: Ufa.

Brigitte Helm
French postcard by Cine-Europe, no. 66. Photo: Studio Lorelle.

Brigitte Helm
French postcard by Cine-Europe, no. 1074. Photo: Studio G.L. Manuel Frères, Paris.

Brigitte Helm in Spione am Werk (1933)
French postcard, no. 51. Brigitte Helm in Spione am Werk/Spies at Work (Gerhard Lamprecht, 1933).

Mysterious Adaptability


Brigitte Helm played a helpless blind woman who is seduced by a rogue in the wartime melodrama Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney/The Love of Jeanne Ney (G.W. Pabst, 1927).

It was Brigitte Helm's first project with Georg Wilhelm Pabst, the director who could - better than any other director - bring out her mysterious adaptability. In his films Abwege/The Devious Path (1928) and L’Atlantide/Die Herrin von Atlantis/Queen of Atlantis (1932) she proved that she could perform more restrained and emotionally expressive characters.

In Abwege, she portrays a spoilt woman of the world who from sheer boredom almost destroys her own life. In L'Atlantide (1932), Helm plays a goddess, the mere sight of whom makes men crazy.

Werner Sudendorff wrote in his obituary of Helm in The Independent: "Her power is not of this world, but incomprehensible, magical. This was Helm's last really great role, a legendary mysterious sphinx of the German cinema."

These films and Marcel L'Herbier's late silent film L'Argent/The Money (Marcel L’ Herbier, 1928) allowed Helm to act outside the tired cliches she was later often subjected to by scriptwriters and producers.

Brigitte Helm
French postcard by JRPR, Paris, no. 337. Photo: Studio Lorelle (Lucien Lorelle), Paris. Brigitte Helm in L'Argent/The Money (Marcel L'Herbier, 1928).

Brigitte Helm
French postcard by JRPR, Paris, no. 338. Photo: Studio Lorelle, Paris. Publicity still for L'Argent/The Money (1928).

Brigitte Helm
French postcard by Cine-Europe, no. 339. Photo: Studio Lorelle. Publicity still for L'Argent/The Money (1928).

Brigitte Helm
Austrian postcard by Iris-Verlag, no. 5789. Photo: Studio Lorelle, Paris / Verleih Weil & Co. Publicity still for L'Argent/The Money (1928).

Brigitte Helm in L'argent (1928)
French postcard by Europe, no. 563. Photo: Cinéromans Films de France. Brigitte Helm in L'argent/The Money (Marcel L'Herbier, 1928), freely adapted from the novel by Emile Zola.

Restricting Clauses


Brigitte Helm's first sound film was the musical Die singende Stadt/City of Song (Carmine Gallone, 1930) with Jan Kiepura. She also appeared in the French and English versions of her German films.

Werner Sudendorff: "In her films of the early 1930s Brigitte Helm became the embodiment of the down-to-earth, affluent modern woman. With her slim figure and austere pre-Raphaelite profile, she seems unapproachable, a model fashion-conscious woman, under whose ice-cold outer appearance criminal energies flicker."

However, her sound films, like Gloria (Hans Behrendt, 1931), The Blue Danube (Herbert Wilcox, 1932), and Gold/L’Or (Karl Hartl, 1934), do not have the artistic cachet of her best silent films.

Her relationship with the Ufa happened to be very rocky. While the studio had made her a star and kept increasing her pay, the actress was unhappy with the material the Ufa offered her and she was annoyed about the restrictive clauses dictating her weight.

Brigitte Helm in L'Atlantide (1932)
Dutch postcard by Filma, no. 280. Brigitte Helm in L'Atlantide/Die Herrin von Atlantis/Lost Atlantis (Georg Wilhelm Pabst, 1932).

Brigitte Helm
Dutch postcard by Filma, no. 325.

Brigitte Helm
Dutch postcard by Filma, no. 443. Photo: publicity still for L’Atlantide/Queen of Atlantis (1932).

Brigitte Helm
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4875/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Ufa.

Brigitte Helm
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4875/3, 1929-1930. Photo: Ufa.

Brigitte Helm
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5019/2, 1930-1931. Photo: Ufa.

Brigitte Helm
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 5420. Photo: Verleih E. Weil & Co.

Blue Angel


Reportedly Brigitte Helm was Josef Von Sternberg's original choice for the starring role of Der Blaue Engel/The Blue Angel (1930), but the part went to Marlene Dietrich.

Helm was also James Whale's first choice for his Bride of Frankenstein (1935), but reportedly she refused to go to America.

In 1935, angered by the Nazi control of the German film industry, she didn’t extend her contract with the Ufa. Perhaps another reason for her decision were the negative press reports about her many traffic accidents and the short prison sentence as a result of it.

Her last film was Ein Idealer Gatte/An Ideal Husband (Herbert Selpin, 1935), an adaptation of the play by Oscar Wilde.

Brigitte Helm
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3350/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Ams-Film.

Brigitte Helm
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4292/3, 1929-1930. Photo: Ufa.

Brigitte Helm and Franz Lederer in Die wunderbare Lüge der Nina Petrowna (1929)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4620/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Ufa. Brigitte Helm and Franz Lederer in Die wunderbare Lüge der Nina Petrowna/The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna (Hanns Schwarz, 1929).

Jan Kiepura and Brigitte Helm in Die singende Stadt
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5261/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Ufa. Jan Kiepura and Brigitte Helm in Die singende Stadt/The Singing City (Carmine Gallone, 1930).

Brigitte Helm
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5317/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Allianz Film / Ufa.

Brigitte Helm
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5318/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Ufa.

Timid, Modest and Not Very Ambitious


In private, Brigitte Helm was a timid, modest, and not very ambitious personality. In 1935, after a short but prolific career of 32 films, she married Dr. Hugo Von Kunheim, a German industrialist of Jewish descent, and retired.

Bruce Eder at AllMovie: "in addition to no longer needing to pursue her acting, with which she was never 100-percent comfortable, she was repelled by the takeover of the German movie industry by the Hitler government.

Her marital status, coupled with her anti-Nazi political views, made it impossible for Helm to continue working in movies or living in Germany. From 1935 onward, the couple lived in Switzerland. After the war, they divided their time between Germany and Switzerland, but Helm chose to live quietly and remain anonymous."

The pair would raise four children. In 1968 Helm received the Filmband in Gold for “continued outstanding individual contributions to German film over the years". She steadfastly refused to appear in a film again, nor even grant an interview about her film career, but she always answered requests from her old fans for her signature.

Brigitte Helm died in 1996 in Ascona, Switzerland. In particular, her Evil Maria won't be forgotten. Apt for her is the Mae West line: "When I am good, I am very good; but when I am bad, I am better."

Brigitte Helm
German collectors card in the Moderne Schönheitsgalerie Series by Ross Verlag, no 6 (of 300). Photo: Ufa. The card was a supplement to 'Edelzigarette' (precious cigarette) Kurmark.

Brigitte Helm
German collectors card in the Unsere Bunten Filmbilder series by Ross Verlag, no. 5 (of 275). Photo: Ufa. The card was a supplement to 'Salem Zigaretten', Dresden.

Brigitte Helm
German collectors card in the Unsere Bunten Filmbilder series by Ross Verlag for Cigarettenfabrik Josetti, Berlin, no. 7 (of 275). Photo: Ufa.

Brigitte Helm in Alraune (1930)
Italian postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5501/2, 1930-1931. Distributed in Italy by Ballerini & Frattini, Florence. Photo: Ufa. Brigitte Helm in Alraune/A Daughter of Destiny (Richard Oswald, 1930).

Brigitte Helm
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5683/3, 1930-1931. Photo: Harlip, Berlin.

Gustav Fröhlich and Brigitte Helm in Gloria (1931)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6141/1, 1931-1932. Photo: Emelka. Gustav Fröhlich and Brigitte Helm in Gloria (Hans Behrendt, 1931).

Jessie Vihrog and Brigitte Helm in Eine von uns (1932)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 156/2. Photo: Paramount. Jessie Vihrog and Brigitte Helm in Eine von uns/One of Us (Johannes Meyer, 1932).

Albrecht Schoenhals and Brigitte Helm in Fürst Woronzeff (1934)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 9081/1, 1935-1936. Photo: Ufa. Albrecht Schoenhals and Brigitte Helm in Fürst Woronzeff/Prince Woronzeff (Arthur Robison, 1934).


Dance scene from Metropolis (1927). Source: TheGuyThatSucks (YouTube).


Scene from Abwege/The Devious Path (1928). Brigitte Helm (as Mrs. Irene Beck) is woken up by her friends from the party, where she was the day before. Source: XY (YouTube).


Scene from L’Atlantide/Queen of Atlantis (1932). Source: XY (YouTube).

Sources: Vittorio Martinelli (Le dive del silenzio), Robert McThomas and Peter Herzog (The New York Times), Werner Sudendorff (The Independent), Bruce Eder (AllMovie), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Film Reference, Lenin Imports, Wikipedia, and IMDb.

02 October 2022

Nanook of the North (1922) and more Inuit in the cinema

The big Sunday event of Il Giornale del cinema Muto in Pordenone is the screening in Teatro Verdi of the classic documentary Nanook of the North (1922). The American silent documentary was directed, produced and written by Robert J. Flaherty and is considered the first documentary film ever made. Nanook of the North: A Story Of Life and Love In the Actual Arctic follows the life of Inuit Nanook (Allakariallak), his wife Nyla, and their child. Flaherty documents their daily life and the hard conditions of existence around the Arctic Circle. Many traditional aspects of Inuit life, such as hunting and building igloos, are shown. In this post, we focus on five films about the Inuit.

Nanook of the North (1922)


Nanook of the North (1922), publicity for its Berlin screening
German postcard by Dafu Konzern. Publicity for the Berlin screening of the documentary feature Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, 1922) with Allakariallak as Nanook. The film was shown at the Berlin cinemas Theater am Nollendorfplatz and the Alhambra at the Kurfürstendamm.

Nanook of the North (Robert J. Flaherty, 1922) was a great success, mainly because it was different from what people were used to. It was the first long film shot on location that really showed the lifestyle of the Inuit instead of a story played by actors. Afterwards, however, it turned out that the film was not entirely realistic. Flaherty had staged some events. For example, at the time of the filming, the Inuit were already using guns for hunting, but Flaherty urged them to go back to hunting as their recent ancestors did. The dangers that the Inuit would face were also exaggerated here and there. For this, Robert J. Flaherty was criticised by some film critics, but in general, they were not too worried about it, as it was common in documentaries at the time for things to be staged. Flaherty further defended his actions by stating that even a documentary maker cannot avoid staging an event once in a while in order to film it properly.

Das Eskimobaby (1918)


Asta Nielsen and  Freddy Wingardh in Das Eskimobaby (1918)
German postcard by Photochemie, no. K. 1423. Photo: Neutral-Film. Asta Nielsen and Freddy Wingardh in their outfits from Das Eskimobaby (Walter Schmidthässler, 1918).

In 1915, during a trip to South America, famous Danish film star Asta Nielsen met Freddy Wingårdh, A Swedish fleet lieutenant and son of a shipbuilder. They soon fell in love. Wingårdh made several photos of Nielsen, which were used for postcards issued by the German Photochemie company in Berlin. Wingårdh would also act in Nielsen's film Das Eskimobaby/The Eskimobaby (Walter Schmidthässler or Heinz Schaller, 1918). In this comedy, Asta played the Inuk Ivigtut Sigurdsen and Wingardh appeared as Knud Prätorius. Knud informs his parents by a letter from Greenland that he will be returning home shortly. He will bring a surprise with him from Greenland. The surprise is called Ivigtut Sigurdsen. The female Inuk appears completely uncivilised in the trousers of her people and carelessly pulls the emergency brake on the train because she is not aware of the consequences. In the end, Knud and Ivigtut travel back to Greenland with their child, and Knud's parents have in the meantime become comfortable with the idea of an Inuit daughter-in-law. Contemporary critics praised Das Eskimobaby and Nielsen's performance.

Asta Nielsen in Das Eskimo-Baby (1916)
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no. K. 1422. Photo: Neutral-Film. Asta Nielsen in Das Eskimobaby (Walter Schmidthaessler, 1916).

Man of Two Worlds (1934)


Francis Lederer in Man of Two Worlds (1934)
British postcard in the Film Shots series by Film Weekly. Photo: Radio (RKO). Francis Lederer in Man of Two Worlds (J. Walter Ruben, 1934).

With the success of Flaherty's Nanook of the North (1922), Hollywood tried to replicate the box office by using Inuit themes. In Man of Two Worlds (J. Walter Ruben, 1934), British explorer Sir Basil (Henry Stephenson) in the Arctic hires a local Inuk as an assistant. The earnest but unsophisticated young man called Aigo (Francis Lederer) happens to see a photograph of the explorer's beautiful daughter and falls in love with her. Soon afterwards a medical emergency results in his being flown to London for treatment, where he finally meets the girl he has longed for. Once in Britain, Aigo is treated as a curiosity - like some sort of simple-minded thing instead of a person. He likes what he sees - particularly Sir Basil's daughter. In his mind, he's envisioned that she is destined to be his - and, of course, he's setting himself up for disappointment. No one seems to believe, including the girl, that Aigo has normal human desires and urges. The film was a box office disappointment for RKO.

Steffi Duna and Francis Lederer in Man of Two Worlds (1934)
British postcard in the Film Shots series by Film Weekly. Photo: Radio (RKO). Steffi Duna and Francis Lederer in Man of Two Worlds (J. Walter Ruben, 1934).

Steffi Duna and Francis Lederer in Man of Two Worlds (1934)
British postcard in the Film Shots series by Film Weekly. Photo: Radio (RKO). Steffi Duna and Francis Lederer in Man of Two Worlds (J. Walter Ruben, 1934).

The Savage Innocents (1959)


Anthony Quinn and Yoko Tani in The Savage Innocents (1960)
West-German card. Photo: Rank Film. Anthony Quinn and Yoko Tani in The Savage Innocents (Nicholas Ray, 1959).

Mexican-American actor Anthony Quinn and French-born Japanese actress Yoko Tani starred as an Inuit couple in the adventure film The Savage Innocents (1960), directed and co-written by Nicholas Ray. The film's themes include Inuit survival in the extreme arctic wilderness, as well as their raw existence and struggle to maintain their lifestyle against encroaching civilization. The Savage Innocents was adapted from the novel 'Top of the World' by Swiss writer Hans Rüesch. Quinn plays an Inuk hunter Inuk who kills a Christian missionary who rejects his traditional offer of food and his wife's company. Pursued by white policemen, the Inuk saves the life of one of them, resulting in a final confrontation in which the surviving cop must decide between his commitment to law enforcement and his gratitude to the Inuk. The film was an international co-production, with British, Italian and French interests involved. The Savage Innocents was shot on-location in the Canadian Arctic, with interiors shot in Britain's Pinewood Studios and in Rome's Cinecittà studios. It was entered at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival.

Brother Bear (2003)


Brother Bear (2003)
French postcard by Jump, Paris, for McDonald's. Image: Walt Disney Pictures. Publicity still for Brother Bear (Aaron Blaise, Robert Walker, 2003).

Brother Bear (Aaron Blaise, Robert Walker, 2003) is an American animated musical fantasy comedy-drama produced by Walt Disney Studios. In a post-ice age Alaska, the local tribes believe all creatures are created through the Great Spirits, who are said to appear in the form of an aurora. Native boy Kenai pursues a bear and kills it, but the Spirits, incensed by this unnecessary death, change Kenai into a bear himself as punishment. In order to be human again, Kenai must travel to a mountain where the Northern lights touch the earth. In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert wrote the film "doesn't have the zowie factor of The Lion King or Finding Nemo, but is sweet rather than exciting. Children and their parents are likely to relate on completely different levels, the adults connecting with the transfer of souls from man to beast, while the kids are excited by the adventure stuff." The film received a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 76th Academy Awards, losing to Pixar's Finding Nemo. The film grossed $250 million against a $46 million budget.

Brother Bear (2003)
French postcard by Cartoon Collection, réf. 28963. Image: Walt Disney Pictures. Publicity still for Brother Bear (Aaron Blaise, Robert Walker, 2003). The French title is Frère des ours.

Brother Bear (2003)
French postcard by Cartoon Collection, réf. 28964. Image: Walt Disney Pictures. Publicity still for Brother Bear (Aaron Blaise, Robert Walker, 2003). The French title is Frère des ours.

Sources: Wikipedia (German and English), and IMDb.

This post only shows a small selection of films on the Inuit, films of which we had postcards in our collection. Wikipedia offers a bigger selection.