18 December 2004 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Look, mum! No Hans!
'Der Unsterbliche Lump' ('The Undying Scalawag') is a semi-musical starring Gustav Fröhlich, who is best-known for playing the lead role in the greatest film of all time: 'Metropolis'. Here, he depicts a fairly similar personality in a very different story.
Hans Ritter (Fröhlich) is a young schoolmaster in the Tyrolean village of Burghausen. Dissatisfied with this life, he aspires to be a composer of operettas. But success as a big-time operetta operator will never come unless he ups sticks and moves to Vienna. Hans is unofficially engaged to local fraulein Anna, who has no desire to leave her beloved village. So she reluctantly adopts a Hans-off policy, and they separate so that Hans can go to Vienna.
Miraculously, Hans gets more success than he expected. But when he returns to Burghausen in triumph, Hans discovers that Anna has married a well-to-do local farmer named Franz. (She probably figured it this way: Hans, Franz, what's the difference?) Suddenly, Hans realises that the love of Anna was more precious to him than the weltschmerz of Vienna. He goes insane, and flees into the distant sauerbraten.
SPOILERS COMING. For five long years (and it certainly seems like it), Hans roams the world as a hobo. Eventually, he returns to Burghausen. By an astonishingly convenient coincidence, he has come home on the very day that the local yokels are erecting a monument to their famous native son: the great composer Hans Ritter, who is now presumed dead. This scene reminded me of the climax of 'The Way of All Flesh', in which the protagonist goes home anonymously to confront his own grave.
'Metropolis' is my all-time favourite film, but very little of my love for it is due to Fröhlich's performance. Nonetheless, his callow portrayal was appropriate to his role in that film. Here, Fröhlich still seems to be giving a silent-film performance: a bit too much gesticulation, a bit too much eyebrow histrionics. I had difficulty following the dialogue, which seems to be in some regional dialect rather than straightforward German or Plattdeutsch. The film features several plot twists which manage to be extremely implausible and highly predictable at the same go. Still, the music and the photography are pleasant. I'll rate this movie 4 points out of 10.