Sunday, October 05, 2014

Das Frauenhaus von Rio / Girls for Sale. Rio's Road to Hell

Vivian Gibson (Ilona Schwarz-Lopez), Ernst Deutsch (Plüsch). Ilona and Plüsch, old friends and perhaps more, meet after a long while. Now Ilona is a successful businesswoman and Plüsch a petty operator. Photo: Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv Berlin.
Ilona's "art institute" in Rio. Photo: Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv Berlin
Vivian Gibson (Ilona Schwarz-Lopez). Ilona overhears Verloost in a meeting. Verloost is desperately in debt, and Ilona proceeds to hire him as her private secretary on the road to Rio. Photo: Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv Berlin.
Riscoperte e restauri / Rediscoveries and Restorations
The Steinhoff Project

Tyttökauppa Riossa (Das Mädchenschiff) (Sparvieri) (Orplid - DE 1927) D: Hans Steinhoff; P: Georg M. Jacoby; SC: B.E. Lüthge, based on the novel by Norbert Jacques; DP: Franz Planer; AD: [Hans] Sohnle & [Otto] Erdmann; prod. mgr: Bruno Lopinski; C: Ernst Deutsch (Plüsch), Albert Steinrück (Plümowski / Schröder), Julie Serda (his wife), Suzy Vernon (Kordula, his daughter), Vivian Gibson (Ilona Schwarz-Lopez), Hans Stüwe (Verloost), Kurt Gerron (Kastilio), Lissi Arna (Josepha), Robert Scholz (Alfredo), Gertrud Walter (Gertrud), Else Reval (Frau Garcia), Anna von Palen (Frau Gold), Eugen Neufeld (Captain), Georg Baselt, Bruno Eichgrün, Margot, Walther-Landa, Henry Bender, Margot Walter, Georg Baselt, Conrad, Gerlach, Sternberg, Schwarz, Damatow, Gungowski; première: 16.9.1927, Tauentzien-Palast, Berlin; orig. l.: 2683 m (2674 m. after censor cuts); DCP (from 35 mm, 2323 m), 93' (transferred at 22 fps), col. (tinted); titles: GER; print source: Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, Berlin.
    The Swiss source print has French and German intertitles.
    With e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Günter A. Buchwald with a percussionist at Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), Pordenone, 5 Oct 2014

Horst Claus (Catalogue): "Stories about the disappearance of innocent young provincial beauties ensnared by the unscrupulous white slave trade were popular throughout the first half of the 20th century. As a film genre, the subject can be traced back to Viggo Larsen’s Danish white-slave film Den hvide Slavinde (The White Slave Girl) of 1906/07. Twenty years later, its continued box-office appeal manifested itself in January/February 1927, when several German film producers announced, independently of each other, the forthcoming release of four Mädchenhändlerfilme (white slave trade films). Three months later, Ufa premiered Die Frauengasse von Algier (The Women’s Street of Algiers). A month after that, Hans Steinhoff began work on Das Frauenhaus von Rio (The Women’s House of Rio), at the Ufa studio in Berlin-Tempelhof. The film was in production from mid-June to the end of July, less than two weeks of which were spent in the studio. Location filming took place in Hamburg and the nearby village of Wohltorf. The picture’s final cost of 132,255 Marks and the speed with which it was made are characteristic of the German Mittelfilm (commercial films, similar to American B-movies, with a medium-size budget, made as everyday cinema entertainment for consumption by German provincial audiences). Asked shortly after its completion whether he was concerned at the prospect of being regarded as a commercial film director, Steinhoff replied: “Not in the least!” On the contrary, he explained, “People who approach these films with a sneer and try to find excuses for making them should leave them alone. Even the [then extremely popular] ‘Heidelberg-’ and ‘Rhine-films’ have to be made with love, artistic sincerity, and the full support of their director’s personality, as otherwise they would be unbearable.”"

"During the final days of the silent era Steinhoff was one of the busiest directors in the German industry, making up to five films per year. It was undoubtedly his reputation as an efficient, reliable filmmaker of commercially successful pictures that prompted the “Doyen of the German Film Industry” Oskar Messter and his partner, film producer Georg M. Jacoby, to choose Steinhoff to direct the first film of their newly-formed production and distribution company Orplid-Messtro. So convinced were they of the film’s quality and profitability that even before it was released they signed Steinhoff for another three pictures."

"Based on a novel by the creator of Dr. Mabuse, author Norbert Jacques, originally serialized in 1927 in the Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung, Das Frauenhaus von Rio was initially banned by the censor on the grounds that the finished product glamorized the milieu and presented its subject matter as an exciting adventure – contrary to the producers’ insistence that it had been made as a warning against the international white slave trade. To get the censor’s decision reversed, Jacoby and Messter managed to win the support of the “International Committee for the Fight against the White Slave Trade”. This organization actually became the film’s patron, and after three minor changes what had previously been considered as having a negative stimulating and immoral effect on its audiences, practically overnight became a valuable deterrent, praised for its socially useful and enlightening tendency: “In their brutality, the cruel and immoral scenes showing the slave traders at their ‘game’ are particularly well-suited to frighten off young girls from coming into contact with and being at the mercy of this type of person.” From then on (wherever possible), the film’s opening nights were promoted through and accompanied by advertising campaigns of the “International Committee … against the White Slave Trade”."

"A box office hit from the start – not least because of Ernst Deutsch’s brilliant portrayal of the slimy eternal loser Plüsch – the film kept its Number One position within Messtro’s distribution programme throughout the 1927-28 season. It was distributed across Europe, and in 1930 surfaced in the U.S. in a truncated 60-minute version with added sound, under the sensationalist title Girls for Sale, credited (without any reference to Steinhoff) to Bud Pollard, a minor American editor and director. Re-released and shown in May 1931 in New York as Rio’s Road to Hell, the film led to protests from Brazilian officials, who regarded it as derogatory and offensive to Brazil and Latin America. In 1949-50, Eugen York directed a German remake, with a script by Norbert Jacques."

"Due to the brittle condition of its nitrate original, the print screened at the Giornate is a 1:1 digital transfer of the film’s Swiss version, Das Mädchenschiff (The Ship of Girls), with German and French intertitles, held by the Cinémathèque Suisse. The plot relates the revenge taken by Plüsch, a small-time criminal and one of life’s losers, on his financially successful partner in crime, Plümowski, who constantly cheats him out of the spoils he considers his due. When he discovers that Plümowski leads a double life, as a respected Hamburg businessman and as a partner of the elegant Ilona  Schwarz-Lopez who runs a brothel in Rio de Janeiro, Plüsch devises a plan by which Plümowski’s daughter Kordula (whose ambition to become a famous dancer is violently resisted by her father) falls victim to Ilona’s scheme of luring innocent young girls into her establishment by promising them a successful dancing career in Rio. Comparing the print with the censorship card of the German original, the Swiss distributor seems to have removed a number intertitles considered
superfluous. However, most of the 360 metres missing from this version are due to the deterioration of the film’s third reel, and concern (a) Plümowski’s resistance to his daughter’s ambitions of becoming a dancer and his wife’s attempt to calm things down by sending Kordula to her uncle in the town of Eckernförde, and (b) a minor subplot introducing a particularly naïve Polish girl named
Josepha, who has officially replied to the advertisement for the supposed training opportunity in Rio and subsequently joins Kordula and Ilona’s secretary Verloost on their journey to Brazil. Because of
the missing material, she suddenly seems to appear from nowhere. The film’s original negative was destroyed on 24 September 1928, in a fire at Ufa’s printing lab Aktiengesellschaft für Filmfabrikation (Afifa), where it had been stored for safekeeping." – Horst Claus

AA: A mediocre entertainment film marked by an atmosphere of ordinary degradation.

The bosses of the criminal network are matter-of-fact professionals - Albert Steinrück as Plümowski and Vivian Gibson as Ilona Schwarz-Lopez, in charge of the white slave traffic from Europe to the "art institute" in Rio.

Ernst Deutsch as Plüsch is a petty criminal determined to break it big. When Plümowski double-crosses him in a case of exposing a jewel robbery Plüsch devises an ingenious revenge / blackmail plan luring Plümowski's daughter Kordula (Suzy Vernon) into Ilona's next talent shipment.

The white slave traffic was a terrible problem then, and it is an even much bigger problem today. As Horst Claus reports above, white slavery films had become a successful film genre since 1906-1907 when Danes started producing films about the topic. Frenchmen made successful white slave films in the 1930s. In Finland Teuvo Tulio was an avid viewer of those films as can be seen in his films about prostitution.

The central subject is Plümowski's double life. In his private life he is a respected family man called Schröder. He is an over-protective father to his beloved daughter Kordula, and he would not like her to dance in an innocent evening celebration at the local garden restaurant. He drags her with force from the rehearsals.

The most exciting element of the story is Plüsch's revenge plan as he discovers his boss's second life. The most poignant turning-point is when Plüsch encourages Kordula to leave home: "You are a born dancer". But this well-deserved encouragement is only a part of his callous plan.

In George Loane Tucker's Traffic in Souls the businessman's double life was also a central story concept. I seem to remember that the exposure of the nature of his business took place at the very moment of his daughter's wedding. In the print we saw of Das Frauenhaus von Rio there is no such scene of public exposure of the source of the mighty man's wealth.

There is a dimension of a social background in the story of the trajectory of Verloost (Hans Stüwe). "Because of the war and the family situation I lost everything", he explains to Ilona.

The general feeling is tawdry in this work of pulp fiction. Memorable aspects:
    The amusing key to the secret code of the gangsters as the MacGuffin.
    Plüsch's naive fantasy of getting rich with visions of a roadster and a "Blockhaus in Zehlendorf". Seen in an elaborate daydream sequence with funny superimpositions.
    From behind the curtain Ilona slips 5000 Mark to Plüsch as he handles the Kordula exchange.
    The triangle drama on the ship to Rio: Verloost is attracted to Kordula and becomes her protector, and Ilona, who had had expectations of her own about the handsome young man, is openly frustrated.
    When Plüsch is getting the upper hand on Plümowski / Schröder, he announces his claim on a written note echoing what Plümowski had done earlier: 50.000 Mark.
    The sending of telegrams from the ship to Rio and from Rio to the ship expressed via inserts of animated waves.
    Kordula's subjective view at the institute in Rio as she discovers the bars on her window.
    The private dinner for Ilona and Verloost, Verloost balancing the table with paper.
    The peephole in the clock: from it Kordula finally sees what is taking place at the institute.
    Kordula saves herself from the clutches of her first customer via burning his hand with the cigar in his extra long protruding cigar holder.
    Ilona takes poison. Schröder strangles Plüsch and becomes mad like Mabuse did in the earlier famous story by Norbert Jacques.

My main lesson from this film is that I now admire Fritz Lang more. He created art from sensation in the Dr. Mabuse story by Norbert Jacques. Hans Steinhoff never rises above his subject-matter.

Horst Claus reports above that this is a 1:1 digital transfer from the Swiss print. There are occasional damage marks, even of total damage, and as reported above, footage is missing, but from an evidently extremely difficult source a watchable viewing experience has been made possible.

No comments: