1 September 2019 | boblipton
It's The Movie That's The Explanation
Elisabeth Bergner is married to Emil Jannings. One day she spots poet Conrad Veidt in the street and is immediately captivated by his hypnotic eyes. All three of them meet at a party, and Veidt calls next day to make smarmy remarks to Jannings. Jannings orders that he not be permitted to return. Veidt shows up anyway, and Jannings gets violent. This convinces Miss Bergner that no one is safe around him, so she goes to live with Veidt, leaving her daughter with Jannings.
It's not just that Veidt is at his most obnoxious, nor that Jannings is, of course, in love with yet another woman who leaves him. He was good at playing these essentially clueless men who were destroyed by forces out side his control, whether it be Faust or a hotel doorman. So long as the public paid to see him in those roles, he would continue to play them. That is, after all, the essence of being a star: people come to see you, knowing what they'll get in advance.
What annoyed me about this movie is that Miss Bergner appears to be insane and no one notices it. I am not sure whether the term "manic-depressive" was in common use in 1920s Vienna, but I have no doubt that people understood that some people were sometimes very gay, and should not make decisions when they were, and sometimes very sad and could not.
Perhaps that is why the German title terms her a "misunderstood woman." Or perhaps it is a matter of Miss Bergner not being able to play the role. Her husband and director, Paul Czinner, spent most of his career striving to make her a star. While she did play leading roles for him, I don't find her particularly capable as an actress. I don't find her particularly interesting here, and while Jannings could go nuts over any woman and be convincing, Veidt's fascination with her seems less understandable. It seems strange that out of six movies in which the two finest German actors of the era appeared together -- two of which are lost -- that they should compete over Miss Bergner.
Well, that's what the script and director told them to do.