Husbands coming back home Feldgrau and Heimkehr

On 11 November 1918, the armistice was signed, ending the war in strictly military terms. People began to get to terms with the economic, political and social misery into which the country had been plunged. For many people and in an almost literal sense, the war had not yet ended. One of the major problems that many families, relatives, wives and parents experienced was the uncertainty about whether their loved ones were still alive. Jay Winter devotes an entire chapter in his Sites of memory, sites of mourning to this uncertainty, the quests and the burial of the dead. One thing he does not mention in his book, or only indirectly, is the story of soldiers presumed dead who returned home long after the war had ended, after a long period of absence, for example because they were prisoners of war. This theme is broached by the films Feldgrau and Heimkehr. Although the theme of the unexpected return is already dramatic in itself, an extra development has been added in the films which even enhances the drama. In both films, the 'waiting' wives have remarried or now live together with another man, that is to say, a man who was a friend of the husband presumed dead. Rivalry has here become (unconscious) betrayal. Since both these film stories mostly take place after the war, the critics did not define them as war films. They do, however, fall within my definition, because the war is not only taken as the starting point but has also clearly influenced the lives of the characters. The relationships between the men and their women will be briefly discussed on the basis of the descriptions of the contents.

The time of programming suggests that films that dealt with a period immediately after the war were in fact strongly associated with that war. The release was planned around the national Volkstrauertag, a day on which 'Das deutsche Volk (...) sichbewusst für 24 Stunden dem Gedenken der Kriegsopfer weihen (will)', as the Lichtbildbühne wrote.7" This memorial day, 28 February, had been proclaimed in 1925 by the 'Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgraber-fürsorge', which had been organising activities to commemorate the war casualties since 1919.71 At the same time, the 28th of February was the anniversary of Friedrich Ebert's death. Friedrich Ebert, the first president of the Weimar Republic, had died one year earlier.72 Indiscreet programming, which had apparently occurred in the past, according to the same report, would create too much consternation, and compromise the cinema.73 Feldgrau was the kind of film that should not hurt any feelings and, according to the critics, it suited the atmosphere of the moment.74 The film premiered in Berlin's Tauentzientheater on 27 February 1926. It had been directed by Manfred Noa, the same man who would have a lot of success at the end of that year with Die versunkene Flotte. Feldgrau was expected to be a success, if only because of the star-studded cast.

In Feldgrau75, Paul Wegener plays the role of Martin Römer, who has great trouble following the attacking orders from his lieutenant, Tautenberg (Anton Pointner). He is afraid he will not see his lovely wife again. After a fierce battle, Römer is reported missing, and Tautenberg decides to tell his wife Maria (Olga Tschechowa). This decision has future consequences: they marry seven years later. In 1925, Römer suddenly surfaces again, but Maria does not want any reunion. After a failed suicide attempt, Römer accuses his rival of having inflicted the wounds. Tautenberg disappears behind bars, and Römer leaves for Brazil with Maria. He confesses his perjury in a letter, Tautenberg is released, follows them to Brazil and manages to win Maria back. Römer finally accepts his loss and kills himself.

It may seem strange that it is the lawful husband who gets the worst of it. However, this had been made plausible for the contemporary audience by the choice of Paul Wegener as the husband. The press in no uncertain words called the actor the 'bestialisierten Paul Wegener'76; 'Die Verkörperung des brutalen, urwelthaften Martin Römer'77 and 'Der Triebmensch Wegener. In der Maske, im Ausdruck halbasiatisch; schreiendes Blut im brutalsten Machtsbewusst-sein.'78 Wegener was a star who had gained fame by participating in artistic, ex-pressionistic film productions such as Der Student von Prag (1914), Der Golem (1914/1920), Sumurun (1921) and Vanina (1921). For this reason alone, he evoked associations with the mysterious and bizarre.79 His lesser known antagonist Anton Pointner, on the other hand, was the paragon of civilisation in this film, although he had played some more shady characters in earlier films. Critics called him: 'Der Mensch des Herzens, der geraden, offenen, durch Kultur temperierten Linie.'80 In short, the film worked out the dichotomy of Nature versus Culture. Naturally, the representative of Culture achieved the final victory. Judging from the description of the 'halbasiatische' which Wegener apparently radiated, the film also emphasises an opposition between the German and the Foreign. The fact that the character played by Wegener was the loser in the story was in line with the expectations created by the makers of the film. Römer also proved to be a bad soldier in the story, one who had been robbed of his manly strength by the fact that his wife had fallen in love with someone else.81 This state of mind, which in times of war could easily be confused with cowardice, hardly deserved to be rewarded. According to the descriptions, the special qualities shown by the woman involved, Olga

Tschechowa, were beauty, strength, mildness and detachment.82 Lichtbildbühne said about this later Hollywood star that, 'mit feiner Zurückhaltung und knappen Mitteln', she gave 'eine ausserordentlich sympatische und kultivierte' performance.83 Given these qualities, this character was clearly more congruent with that played by Anton Pointner than that by Paul Wegener.

Both George Mosse and Jay Winter pay attention to the theme of soldiers returning from war. Winter extensively discusses the quests which relatives undertook to find their loved ones and lets them 'return' to a last resting-place in the Heimat. Metaphorically speaking, the dead soldiers returned to literature, art, films and monuments. There are reports of spiritistic séances in which people tried to bring back their loved ones.84 Mosse emphasises the function of commemorating in bringing about the resurrection of 'Volk' and the fallen nation.

The official Republican guide to German war memorials stated that the fallen had risen from their graves and visited Germans in the dead of night to exhort them to resurrect the fatherland. Familiar ghost stories were infused with themes of Christian resurrections to explain away the finality of death on the battlefield and to give hope to a defeated country.85

In this case, they were fallen soldiers who gained the status of heroes by their deaths. In Feldgrau and Heimkehr, the protagonists are not heroes, but men who were missing and presumed dead, and who appeared to have risen from the dead by returning home. The fact that both are 'punished' in the film stories may be connected with their longing for their wives, which is represented as bordering on the pathological.

According to the reviews, 'the return' was a popular theme. Its origin, however, was not the First World War but nineteenth-century English literature. Nearly all reviews of Feldgrau referred to the so-called Enoch Arden theme, which was derived from the prose poem of the same name written by Lord Alfred Tennyson in 1861. Although the stories of the film and the poem differ in the way they have been elaborated, the theme is similar. Two men love the same woman, one man, Enoch Arden, leaves, while the other takes his place. The lawful husbands in both the poem and the film are presumed dead, and get the worst of it once they have returned. Another important similarity is that in both cases, the man who left and then returns has changed for the worse. Römer is presented as almost animal-like, and so is Tennyson's Enoch Arden. In both cases, the rival is a gentle and civilised man.86

Heimkehr also features two men who love the same woman, and in this film too, one of them takes the place of the other. The protagonists are two soldiers in Russian captivity, Richard and Karl. During the period they are to-

gether, Richard tells Karl all about his wife Anna, with whom he is still very much in love. 'Wir haben doch seit 729 Tagen immer das gleiche Gesprächsthema!; Deine Frau, Deine Wohnung, Dein Tisch, Dein Bett, den Stuhl mit dem wackligen Bein...', says Karl to Richard in one of the intervening texts.87 Longing to see his wife again, Richard persuades Karl to flee with him. During the hard journey home from Siberia, Richard is caught again by the Russians. Karl continues on his own and, after two years, he finally arrives at Anna's home. The film represents the journey rather creatively by images of Karl's moving feet, with his shoes going from bad to worse to rags, shot by shot. Then the war is over, and Richard has been pardoned by the Russians. Karl, meanwhile, has moved in with Anna. They get closer and closer and finally fall in love. In the film they are not shown to do anything inappropriate, but their growing desire is visualised by a split screen which shows them spending a restless time on either side of a wall. At long last, Karl and Anna give up their belief that Richard will return. One day, however, Richard returns and threatens to kill Karl. Since Karl once saved his life, Richard is unable to pull the trigger. Instead, he decides to leave them, seeing that his wife is now clearly in love with Karl. Richard chooses to go to sea, and says goodbye to his friend in a spirit of comradeship: 'Lass gut sein, mein Junge, was soll ich mit einer Frau deren Herzen mir nicht mehr gehört!; Sei gut zu ihr!'88

It should not come as a surprise that critics also referred to the Enoch Arden theme in their reviews of Heimkehr.89 In this film also, the returning Richard, with a stubby beard, looks a little bit rougher than Karl, although the contrast between the two men is much less extreme than in Feldgrau or the original Enoch Arden story.9" Several critics pointed out that the theme had been filmed many times before. As far as I have been able to establish, only these two films related to the war. This theme was so suitable for treatment in a war film because there were so many soldiers who came home changed men, sometimes literally changed into unrecognisable strangers. The representation of the Enoch Arden theme is a variant of the no less confronting homecoming scenes in Westfront 1918 and All quiet on the Western Front. These films show that it was not only the soldiers who had experienced a profound change, but also the society of which they had once been part and which they now no longer understood.

In spite of the Enoch Arden theme mentioned above, neither of the films was actually based on Tennyson's poem, but on much more recent literature. Feldgrau was based on the novel Der Mann aus dem Jenseits by Fred Nelius, and Heimkehr was based on the novel Karl und Anna by Leonhard Frank.91 Three years later, the pacifist Frank, who was known for his 1918 anti-war novel Der Mensch ist gut, would write the screenplay for Victor Trivas' anti-war film

Niemandsland. His novel Karl und Anna was very popular in 1926. It was not only filmed but also successfully adapted for the stage in 1929. The film version was produced in 1928 by Ufa producer Erich Pommer, who had returned from the US several months earlier.92 He brought in Joe May as the director. May was known for monumental films such as Die Herrin der Welt (1919) and Das indische Grabmal (1921)®, a co-operation with Fritz Lang. Just like in Feldgrau, most actors were familiar to the audience. Lars Hanson, who played the role of Richard, was popular for his role in Gösta Berling, and Gustav Fröhlich (Karl) was known for his portrayal of Freder in Metropolis (Fritz Lang 1927). For Dita Parlo as Anna, the film marked her debut. Ufa naturally presented her as a promising young actress.94 Finally, Pommer himself was one of Germany's best-known producers. He produced three films that were directed by Fritz Lang, Der müde Tod (1921), Dr. Mabuse (1922) and Nibelungen (1924), as well as Murnau's Der letzte Mann (1924). It is not surprising, therefore, that his name evoked associations with film as art. Heimkehr was meant to appeal to the broadest possible audience, both at home and abroad. As a 'Weltfilm', an export product, it was meant to meet international, that is American, standards. In the words of Ernst Jäger, this meant:

weg vom ungelösten experimentell-kamerakünstelnden Vorstoss-Film (...) es wird ein entschlossener, geschlossener Film auf die Leinwand geworfen, für Millionen, ungezählte, gleichbeseelte, die der Film umfassen will.95

In short, no striking camera movements, and actors and actresses who 'illusionistisch-reproduktiv-realistische spielen'.96 The same was true for the theme, which was at least recognisable in all countries that had been involved in the war.

It goes without saying that Leonhard Frank's original story should also fall within this 'pattern'. Basically, it was Frank himself who had been asked to write the screenplay for the film. So he did, but Ufa turned down his manuscript. Subsequently, Joe May donned the pseudonym Fred Mayo and, together with Fritz Wendhausen, re-worked the novel into a film script. This time, it was accepted. The changes in comparison with the book were quite substantial. To name a few: in the book, Karl pretends to be Richard when he returns. Anna has her doubts but in the end she accepts him. Anna gets pregnant by Karl; and when he arrives home, Richard picks a fight with Karl, after which Anna and Karl go away, leaving Richard behind.97 This is a sadder and much more negative end, and therefore commercially less attractive, than the end of the film. In a letter to Ufa, Frank reacts strongly to the maltreatment of his novel: 'Meine Herren, ich protestiere dagegen, dass diese total misslungene, unfreiwillige Verulkung meiner Novelle gedreht wird...'.98 It was clear that the novel's most controversial issues had been ironed out in the film. In short, we see the same kind of reduction of quality as with the film version of Ernst Johannsen's book, Westfront 1918.

Criticism was divided. Especially the critics on the right, including the one writing for Vorwärts, gave a positive judgement. They found the film beautiful and moving, without seeing much reason to complain about too much sentiment.99 On the left, however, as well as in moderate newspapers, reviews were much more critical. The story itself was received with much enthusiasm, but the way in which some of the roles were acted was the subject of serious criticism. Especially debutante Dita Parlo was put through the hoop. The Berliner Morgenpost had this to say about her so-called anachronistic appearance: 'Man erwartet eine Frau, blutwarm, lebendig, voll Saft und Kraft, eine Vollnatur. Statt dessen kommt eine ondulierte Debütantin, eine Kriegerfrau im Jahre 1918 mit Bubikopf und Jumper...'.100 Ernst Jäger also recognised the phenomenon of the 'New Woman'101 in Dita Parlo: 'Der deutlichste Bruch mit dem gestrigen Deutschen wird durch diese Frauenwahl angekündigt.'102 It is clear from their reviews what the male critics thought about this new actress. Some of them compared her to an image of the ideal woman, and she clearly failed to make much of an impression. She was considered 'kein deutscher Typ'103; not beefy enough: 'Schade ist auch, das Anna mehr Weibchen als Weib ist'104; or she was thought to act in an unnatural way: 'ein natürlicher Zug war an ihr nicht zu entdecken'. In other words, she was said not to justify the male characters' desires. Ernst Jäger was one of the few critics to write about her positively, in words betraying his appreciation of what drove men to love this woman. In his eyes, Parlo was 'so flink und so blank'; 'ein Luluchen (...) unschuldig und lasterhaft (...) sehr nervös und wach. Gar nicht gebildet, ein Plattmädel, mit sauberem begehrlichen Fleisch.'105

Although the 'genre' of the war film was dominated mainly by male perspectives, the role played by female characters was not altogether insignificant. Several possible reasons can be mentioned for this. We may assume that the significance of female roles in war films was commercial, to increase the appeal of war films for the female part of the audience. Another reason was simply that women could not be ignored when it came to the representation of the home front. However, the main reason must be sought in the narration itself, and the possibilities created by adding some female characters. The films could be made more romantic, more sensitive and more exciting, sometimes even more realistic. Themes like betrayal, rivalry and the return from the front (including the Enoch Arden motif) could only be elaborated when a female character was featured in the film. Nevertheless, the way in which women were represented in these war films was usually far from positive. In some cases, women seemed to operate mainly as an obstruction to the comradeship between men, and as references to the gap between the war front and the home front. Representations of women contributing to the war economy are hard to find. The starting point was positive, however, in the only two 'women's films' made about the war. In these films, female characters were part of the heroism usually reserved for the male characters on the battlefield. They completely devoted themselves to the fatherland. As was clear from earlier reviews of war films, the critics did not like overly emotional or sentimental sequences in war films.

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