Baron von Chanterelle (Max Kronert) is getting on in years and his only heir is his nephew Lancelot (Hermann Thimig). Lancelot is basically a mama’s boy and, to put it bluntly, afraid of girls. The Baron is quite rich and wants Lancelot to marry so that the family legacy continues. To that end he makes a proclamation notifying the eligible women of the town that Lancelot is available for marriage. Forty women show up.
Lancelot, having no idea this was going on, panics and flees. Eventually he manages to elude all forty women and ends up at the doors of the local monastery. The monks, who have forgotten their vow of poverty, take him in. With the monk’s finances in shoddy shape the abbot is wondering what he is going to do. One of the other monks sees a notice in the paper. Lancelot’s uncle is feeling bad about thrusting marriage on Lancelot and driving him away. In his notice he tells Lancelot that if he decides to marry he will receive 300,000 Francs as a dowry. The monks go cha-ching.
Lancelot still doesn’t want to marry but the Abbot has an idea. They will help him avoid marriage if he gives them the dowry. He agrees. The Abbot tells Lancelot that there is a doll maker called Hilarius (Victor Janson) who makes life size dolls. He tells Lancelot that if he buys one and marries the doll he will collect the dowry and still be free.
Hilarius’ latest creation is a life size doll that looks like his daughter Ossi (Ossi Oswalda). Ossi is a bit of a free spirit. His apprentice (Gerhard Ritterband) is precocious and smart beyond his years. While dancing with the doll the apprentice accidently breaks its arm off. Ossi offers to take the doll’s place to save him from being punished by her father until the boy can fix it. Unbeknownst to Ossi her father sells what he thinks is the doll to Lancelot. Now stuck pretending to be a doll Ossi is carted off. Because of her personality Ossi begins to have a little fun with the situation. Lancelot, at first a little taken aback by his doll’s actions, begins to fanaticize that his doll is a real girl.
“The Doll” AKA “Die Puppe” was released in 1919 and was directed by Ernst Lubitsch. It is German comedy fantasy and a silent film.
I am among just about everyone else that found this film utterly delightful and absolutely charming. It is a bit unusual but a really fun movie. Half fairy tale and half social comment the film delivers its message in a surreal and child-like manner. The sets are flat hand painted cardboard and the horses are men in costume. It’s very much the children’s community theater on a budget style set. Even the opening scene is surreal. The director, Lubitsch, opens a cardboard toy box and takes out various pieces putting them out on a cardboard diorama. In the next scene the diorama is transformed into the set for the opening scene of the movie.
Many believe there is a homosexual undertone threading through the film. Back in the day the term bachelor was code for homosexual. I had a great uncle Francis that was a bachelor. Lancelot being a bachelor and not wanting to get married screams homosexuality. Having Lancelot dream of his doll and wishing she were real shows that either they really didn’t understand what homosexuality was all about or perhaps Lancelot just has the wrong label assigned to him. He doesn’t really show any homosexual tendencies. Some have labeled him a misogynist. He’s not so much a misogynist as he is a gynophobe. He doesn’t hate women so much as he’s terrified of them. For him to overcome his fear he just needed the right woman, or the right doll.
Despite the undertones the film is just funny. Mostly due to the apprentice’s adult behavior and Ossi’s childlike behavior. Whatever scene they’re in they steal and when they are together on screen it’s all joy. All the performances are wonderful and Lubitsch is masterful at making the film an enchanting tale, with some bawdy highlights considering it’s 1919.