The Doll (Ernst Lubitsch / Germany, 1919):
(Die Puppe)

A toy-box fantasy, before The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: Ernst Lubitsch unwraps it and assembles it before the camera, Kracauer surely laughed his ass off. The village is a painted set, roads are so slanted that the baron's nephew (Hermann Thimig) slips right into a square-shaped pond; he climbs up dripping and prays for sunshine, cardboard clouds part and his jacket starts steaming. Marriage is arranged but he won't have any of it, a plazaful of grinning brides (cf. Seven Chances) chases him into a monastery, where the cowled gluttons offer dry bread ("Feast, my son. We like to share, but not much"). The dilemma is solved by a button-operated replica made by the toymaker Hilarius (Victor Janson), perfect for "bachelors, widowers and misogynists." When the mechanism is broken, the inventor's daughter (Ossi Oswalda) fakes it as the doll, setting up the heady notion of marriage as ownership ("Must be a screw loose," the men conclude when she rejects docility). "O you hyenas of lust," Janson cries as his hair turns white -- Oswalda's jerky pirouettes are lovely sketches for Lang's Maria, the ruse is sustained through a beautifully pantomimed mise-en-scène, all the way to the wedding ceremony and the honeymoon chamber. Lubitsch brings Hans Christian Andersen and Offenbach's Olympia into Méliès's realm, gazing ahead at The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz, Fellini's Casanova, Lizstomania... With Gerhard Ritterband. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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