21 December 2002 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
German soap opera
'Mensch ohne Namen' ('Man without a Name') is based on a Balzac novel, but it reminds me of the true story of the French soldier Martin Guerre, whose homecoming inspired at least two movies (not counting this one) and a London stage musical. The fact that the main character in this movie is surnamed Martin only adds to the similarity. Fortunately, 'Man without a Name' features impressive performances by Werner Krauss and by Helen Thimig.
Helen Thimig was the wife (and sometimes leading lady) of the great Austrian stage director Max Reinhardt, but she was a successful and prolific actress in her own right. If not for her thick accent, Thimig probably could have had a successful Hollywood career. (She ended up typecast in supporting roles in a few post-war films.)
Krauss plays Heinrich Martin: before the war, he was a German businessman who owned a profitable automobile factory. Conscripted into the Kaiser's army in 1914, he is forced to part company with his wife Eva-Maria (Thimig), not realising she is pregnant. On the Russian front, Krauss became an artillery lieutenant. He was reported killed in action in 1916, and was officially declared dead in 1921. But in fact, he sustained shell-shock and developed amnesia. Now, in the present (1932), he suddenly regains his memory and goes home. Aware that his belated return might cause problems, Martin does not reveal his true identity.
In Germany, Martin learns that his wife has married Herr Doktor Sandler, Martin's former friend. Not only has Dr Sandler taken Martin's wife, but he has also taken over Martin's automobile factory! The Sandlers have a beautiful daughter Helene, 17 years old. There's a touching scene between Krauss and Hertha Thiele (as Helene) when Martin realises that Helene Sandler is actually his own daughter. There's also a good performance by Maria Bard as a secretary who is sympathetic to Martin.
'Man without a Name' is too slow and turgid for modern audiences. I enjoyed Krauss's acting, but I would have enjoyed the plotline more if it weren't so similar to 'The Return of Martin Guerre'. I'll rate this early German sound film only 4 points out of 10.