Year of Première 1918
Format 35mm/1.33:1 original aspect ratio
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Written by Ernst Lubitsch
Produced by Paul Davidson
Cinematography by Theodor Sparkhul
Production design by Kurt Richter
Ossi Oswalda Ossi
Curt Götz Dr. Kersten
Ferry Sikla Counsellor Brockmüller
Margarete Kupfer Governante
Ich möchte kein Mann sein by Anna Thorngate 2010
Ich möchte kein Mann sein is a gag comedy, in the vein of what Lubitsch had been doing, first onstage, then in front of the movie camera, and finally behind it, for several years before its 1918 release. It contains seeds, though, of the sophisticated, rueful wit, thematic daring, and formal care that the name Ernst Lubitsch would come to signify to moviegoers around the world, with an irrepressible playfulness that all but propels its characters off the screen.
Ossi (an alluringly girlish and marry Ossy Oswalda) is a spoiled tomboy whose ideas of fun —playing cards, drinking, smoking cigarettes — are unbecoming to a lady, according to her uncle (Ferry Silka) and governess (Margareta Kupfer). Those wothies enlist the help of a Dr. Kersten (Kurt Goetz) to keep the hoyden in line when her uncle has to go away on business. At once chafing under and excited by the authoritarian Dr. Kersten’s upbraidings, Ossi decides her life would be better if she lived it as a man, so she goes to a menswear store to have a suit made (to the delight of the male clerks, who scuffle over the privilege of measuring her), then goes into pretty convincing drag for a night out. After being exposed to the disregard men show for one another’s personal space and the predatory attentions of women, she comes to the titular conclusion, though not before exchanging a few drunken and not particularly chaste kisses in the back of a cab with Dr. Kersten, who believes her to be a charming young man he’s befriended at a dance.
Oswalda was a bit star in Germany, often compared to Mary Pickford, and she was Lubitsch’s main muse for several years, appearing in more than a dozen of his films, including two more of his most noteworthy and entertaining Berlin comedies: Die Puppe and Die Austernprinzessin, both from 1919. Their collaboration was the first in a long line of fruitful working relationships Lubitsch would develop with actresses; he would write in 1932, of his famous way with his heroines, “Actresses are the most sensitive of women. They must be constantly encouraged. They must be told they are beautiful, and a thousand adjectives flung at their petty heads when they feel discouraged with a way a scene is being done.”
Before Lubitsch’s move to Hollywood, only his sober costume epics were seen outside of Germany. These, for all their veneer of sexiness, cleave to conventional mores: promiscuity, adultery, ambition and greed — especially when indulged in by women — are harshly punished. This has led to a critical misconception, that Lubitsch’s Production Code-flouting later films, with their unconventional sexual themes as well as their intimate scale and satirical humor, represented a departure for him — that there is a clear break to be seen between his Berlin and Hollywood work. In fact, as Ich möchte kein Mann sein and other early comedies show, the director described by critic Michael Wilmington as “at once elegant and ribald, sophisticated and earthy, urbane and bemused, frivolous yet profound … a man who was amused by sex rather than frightened by it — and who taught a whole culture to be amused by it as well” existed long before the likes of Heaven Can Wait [Ernst Lubitsch, 1943] arrived on the screen.
Anna Thorngate is a writer and an assistant editor at The Criterion Collection.
She lives in Brooklyn.
- File created on 19th March 2021 with Handbrake free open source software for archive of theoryreader.org
- Silent film with German intertitles, music encoded in 320bit AAC
- Subtitles in English
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