+++ Peter Schild, a German engineer living and working in South America, returns to Germany for a brief visit, hoping to find a company that would pay good money for an idea of his concerning an improvement of an industrial process of some kind. What little money he had he spent for further developing his idea and of course for his cross-Atlantic journey. So instead of checking into a hotel, he stays with an uncle of his, who is also able to get Peter a temporary job as a hired hand at a detective agency.
Peter’s romantic advances towards an actress/dancer by the name of Isolde lands him in hot water less than 24 hours after his arrival. Likewise, his first job assignment also concerns complicated romantic entanglements. His assignment sees him tailing Clarissa Pernrieder, the spoilt daughter of a wealthy couple, because her mother is worried about her infatuation with Cyrus Kracker, a hapless actor. But Peter’s concept of detective work is as unorthodox as his behaviour around women in brazen. And the ensuing chaos seems inevitable. +++
Frech und Verliebt [which could roughly be translated as “brazen and in love”] belongs to a group of German films referred to by film historians as “Überläufer” [literally: “cross-runner”] – which means their production-and-release time-line happened to “cross” the end of WW II. In practice this means that we are talking about films whose filming began under Nazi rule but was finished after the Nazis’ defeat; or films that were finished shortly before the end of the war but never made it into cinemas before May 8th.
Frech und Verliebt falls into the second category, as it was filmed between Juli and September 1944, and was given the all-clear by the Nazi censors on March 1st, 1945. With the country being destroyed and the military defeat imminent, the film never reached distribution at German cinemas. After the war, all German films made under Nazi rule had to go through a process of approval by the administration of the occupying Allied forces, with many films being partially or completely forbidden for a variety of reasons. Frech und Verliebt was approved by the Allied censors in December 1948, receiving its first showing in a German cinema on Christmas Day.
Passing Allied censorship could not have been difficult for the film, at least as far as the content is concerned. Frech und Verliebt belongs to the vast majority of films produced under Nazi rule which were distinctly intended for entertainment only, and thus entirely apolitical and mostly free from overt ideological messages. Joseph Goebbels, as Hitler’s Minister for Propaganda in charge of the film industry, was responsible for that policy. His rationale was that ideological and political content in mainstream films turns people away from the cinemas. But he wanted to lure as many people into the cinemas as possible, as the newsreels shown before the films (a practice common in many countries in the pre-TV era) were packed-full of Nazi propaganda and “alternative facts”. In addition, the Nazis believed that any form of entertainment was a welcome and useful distraction of the masses in times of war and hardship. So by being apolitical and free from ideology (and thus, by inference, better and more entertaining) these mainstream films still served an indirect propagandistic purpose. But it also meant that these films could easily be shown in cinemas after the war (or television in later years), as they were harmless once they were removed from their original context and environment.
It is within this context of the distraction objective that we need to see the film’s strange otherworldly setting. Although the film was shot in the summer of ’44, when the entire country was suffering from the effects of the war as well as Allied bombings, the “Germany” in which the film takes place is apparently not at war. There are no soldiers, no shortages, no sirens and no air raid shelters. A brief joking reference is, I believe, made to Goebbels’s own ministry – so the film is meant to take place in Nazi Germany? But quite possibly before the war? We are never told. Just as we are never really told which city the story takes place in. So maybe the story is meant to take place at some point between 1933 and 1939; or maybe it is meant to take place in some form of alternate reality. But the fact is that in this film the war does not exist.
Frech und Verliebt, which was directed by Hans Schweikart, is based on a novel by Fred Andreas who also wrote the screenplay. (It is claimed that shady right-wing terrorist Ernst von Salomon contributed to the screenplay, but he has not been credited.) The fact that the screenplay was adapted by the novel’s author may be one explanation for the unnecessarily large assembly of minor supporting characters in this film who are of no importance to the story, as well as the at times “meandering” nature of the plot. It all points to an author who is unwilling or unable to make more drastic cuts to the source material – a problem novelists can suffer from when adapting their own work.
The film is a romantic comedy with elements of a comedy of errors. The main plot is rather amusing and satisfying, even though the third act goes off on an entirely unnecessary tangent. The film looks really good and it is clear that this is not some B-movie but a film into which the studio put some effort. The opening scene – certainly filmed on a soundstage – is very impressive in perfectly recreating the chaotic nature of a busy central train station. That scene also includes an amusing slapstick interlude in which a little girl destroys an umbrella. The very nice score was composed by Peter Kreuder, who was a hugely popular film composer in the 1930s and 1940s. Songs by Kreuder have also been re-used recently in films like Inglorious Basterds and Valkyrie.
The film’s greatest asset, however, is the cast. Even minor roles are filled with really good character actors. And the fact that a number of these roles are – in my opinion – superfluous (and should have been cut in order to streamline the plot) is not something for which you can blame the actors.
The main characters are played by Johannes Heesters (Peter), Charlott Daudert (Isolde), Gabriele Reismüller (Clarissa), and Carl-Heinz Schroth (Cyrus).
Dutch actor Heesters, who famously lived to the age of 108 and whose career on stage and screen lasted for nearly nine decades, is very good and charming here in the role of the womanising engineer, even though his accent is showing from time to time. There is a nice self-referential joke or two when Peter listens to a gramophone recording of Heesters (who was famous for his musical performances on stage and screen). Unfortunately, Peter is written as somewhat “aggressive” in his romantic pursuits, especially in the film’s third act. As far as the comedic aspect is concerned, Heesters’s acting is good when he can interact with and react to others; but less good when he has to carry the comedy on his own.
The two actresses are doing a very good job; especially Daudert, who has the advantage of having been given the “funny” role. But the film’s outstanding performance is that by Carl-Heinz Schroth. It is difficult to describe his performance, but there are some elaborate routines in the role that are partially based on slapstick, and somehow Schroth manages to be the comedian as well as his own straight man. His timing and his facial expressions are first-rate; and his portrayal of the hapless actor who likes to overstate his own talents and prospects is most likely based on people Schroth has met over the years on stage or on set. The script also gives Cyrus a specific recurring gag where the boundaries between diegetic and non-diegetic sound all but blur whenever he mimics the movements of a kettledrum player. Again, it is Schroth’s timing and pantomime that make this gag special.
All things considered, one might say that the film’s many funny moments are a success but the film as a whole – as a complete story – less so. Still, it is a rather entertaining film, and with its good looks and great cast I am willing to rank this film at 7 out of 10.