Just as I had done for music of the 1920s and 1930s, I researched which movies young people would be viewing at the theaters. This was an interesting time because the early 20th century was dominated by the silver screen silent movies. No sound, black and white. However, the first talkies were introduced in 1927, so in 1929 when Luther went to study in Bonn, he would have had a mixture of silent films and talkies to watch.
He saw two silent films: Metropolis and Pandora’s Box. Both are interesting in context.
Metropolis (1927) was a dystopian vision of the future in which workers are enslaved to a capitalist oligarchy. The director Fritz Lang had fought for Austria in WW1, was wounded, and while in hospital, he began writing movie scripts. He turned to directing and had a prosperous and influential career. One of his most famous movies besides Metropolis was M (1931), sometimes considered the precursor of film noir. M was his first attempt at a talking movie. He made three films about a Dr. Mabuse; the third one The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) used lines from actual speeches by Nazi leaders, so the Nazis banned it. In 1934, Lang fled to France and made one movie in French before he left for the United States in 1936. Since Lang was half-Jewish from his mother’s side, he would have been sent to concentration camps if he had stayed in Germany. In 1939, he became a citizen of the United States and made many films in English, including Fury (1936), Scarlet Street (1945), Rancho Notorious (1952), and The Big Heat (1953).
Pandora’s Box (1929) was a German film, but its star Louise Brooks was a free-spirited American from Kansas, who left home at 16 for Los Angeles in 1922. As she began to be noticed by directors in 1925, she had an affair with Charlie Chaplin. In 1928, she starred in a sound film called Beggars of Life, which was the first film to use a boom microphone. Although she was having a successful career making silent films and her bobbed hairstyle had begun a trend in the Jazz Age, she had a contract dispute with Paramount, and left for Germany with G.W Pabst, an Austrian director. She made three successful German movies. Back in the United States in 1931, she turned down the female lead for The Public Enemy to pursue one of her many sexual affairs. The role then was passed to an up-and-coming actress named Jean Harlow, and that part kick-started Harlow’s career. Brooks declared bankruptcy in 1932, and struggled to get work the rest of her life.
Two sound films mentioned in the book are The Blue Angel (1930) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).
The Blue Angel starred Marlene Dietrich and made her an international star. After that movie’s success, she came to Hollywood and began making American films. In 1936, she made two films in London. In 1937, Goebbels offered to make her the star of Third Reich cinema if she returned to Germany. She declined and in 1937 became a citizen of the United States. During WW2, Dietrich spent a lot of money helping European refugees resettle in the USA, and spent a lot of time touring as a member of the USO to keep up the morale of US soldiers and sailors.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first color film and an animation by Walt Disney studios. It is a story from Grimms’ Fairy Tales produced and published during the 19th century by two German brothers. During my research, I learned that during the years before WW2, Nazis did pirate versions of popular foreign films and dub them in German. So, I imagined Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as a natural target to be pirated and dubbed in German, so Luther and his family could see it at a theater.