‘Die Bergkatze’ by Ernst Lubitsch

The Mountain Cat, 1921


Year of Première 1921
Format 35mm/1.33:1 original aspect ratio

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Written by Fred Orbing
Hanns Kräly
Cinematography by Theodor Sparkhul
Production design by Kurt Richter
Costume design by Ali Hubert


Pola Negri Rischka
Victor Janson Kommandant der Festung Tossenstein
Paul Heidemann Leutnant Alexis
Wilhelm Diegelmann Claudius
Hermann Thimig Pepo
Edith Meller Lilli
Marga Möhler Frau des Kommandanten
Paul Graetz Zofano
Max Gronert Masilio
Erwin Kopp Trippo
PPaul Biensfeldt Dafko

Die Bergkatze by Anna Tborngate, 2010

Die Bergkatze is, in the words of Georgia Brown, “so astonishingly inventive it’ll make you wonder why cinema seems to have regressed.” For it Lubitsch drew on his experiences in the Berlin theatre world presided over by Max Reinhardt as well as in vaudeville; the comic operettas of Jacques Offenbach; his growing predilection for experimentation with frames; his affection for architectural shapes, for visual symmetry, for texture and fabrics; and, of course, his fruitful if sometimes volatile creative partnership with Pola Negri, whom Lubitsch had made an international phenomenon in historical epics such as Carmen [1918] and Madame DuBarry [1919]. Here the director gave his star a shot at a comic role, and she rose to the occasion, turning in a performance (as the titular mountain cat, the comely but feral daughter of a bandit leader) at once ferocious, provocative, and hilarious. The film is set in and around a military fort — the expressionistic design for which was the work of the art director, Ernst Stern, a Reinhardt regular — built on location in the Bavarian Alps. Stern reportedly was against shooting on location, being of the opinion that it would be difficult to make the natural landscape look as stylized as the rest of the mise-en-scene, but Lubitsch prevailed — and was borne out. The mountains look every bit as hallucinatory as the fever dream of a fort. The action concerns the tensions between the military command and the bandits, as well as a love story between Negri’s bandit princess and a handsome lieutenant visiting the fort (Paul Heidemann). Lubitsch treats the pomposity of the oily commandant (Victor Janson) and the bumbling ineptitude of his men with the same derision as the shenanigans of the proto-Marx Brothers who make up the robber band. Perhaps that accounts for the fact that the picture was a total financial failure in Germany (it was never distributed elsewhere); as Lubitsch later said, “I found the German audiences in no mood to accept a picture which satirised militarism and war.” This in spite of the fact that, by the director’s own reckoning, “this picture had more inventiveness and satirical pictorial wit than many of my other pictures.” Indeed, the film experiments gleefully with screen shapes and sizes; virtually every shot is matted into an unusual shape, often echoing or otherwise commenting on the composition, the nature of the action, or the décor. Other delectations include a gorgeous dream sequence populated by musical snowmen, borrowed by Stern from a Reinhardt production he’d invented them for several years earlier, bold sexual innuendo, and a singular crowd scene — Lubitsch was known for his way with casts of thousands, but here the masses are put to rare comic use: as Heidemann’s character leaves the city for his trip to the military outpost, hordes of weeping women are on hand to see him off, along with a host of toddlers, all crying ‘‘Daddy! Daddy!” Vw iciness of the film’s reception by contemporary audiences is hard to empathise with today; Lubitsch’s celebrated synthesis of wit, style, and feeling is unmistakably present.

Anna Thorngate is a writer and an assistant editor at The Criterion Collection.
She lives in Brooklyn.

  • File created on 21st 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
  • Video is 1h 25min 41sec in length, H.264 10-bit (x264) encoded, with cropped black edges
  • The file is 9,00 GB in size, contained in Matroska .mkv, uploaded and hosted on mega.nz encrypted cloud storage
  • Video Lan Client (VLC) video playback software recommended for .mkv on Linux, Windows, Mac and Android.

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