(director: Arthur Maria Rabenalt; screenwriters: from the novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers/Fritz Rotter; cinematographer: Friedl Behn-Grund; music: Werner R. Heymann; cast: Hildegard Knef (Alraune), Erich von Stroheim (Jacob ten Brinken), Karl Boehm (Frank Braun), Harry Meyen (Count Geroldingen), Rolf Henniger (Ralph Goutram), Harry Halm (Doctor Mohn), Trude Hesterberg (Princess Wolkonski), Julia Koschka (Olga Wolkonski), Denise Vernac (The Governess), Hans Cossy (Mathieu, the coachman), Gardy Brombacher (Lisbeth, the maid); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Otto Lehmann/Günther Stapenhorst; Sinister Cinema; 1952-West Germany-dubbed in English)

“A hokum sci-fi film that only resonates because Von Stroheim is at his Prussian best as a man possessed by his incestuous love for his foster daughter.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the fifth version (the best version being the 1928 silent with Paul Wegener and Brigitte Helm) that writer Fritz Rotter bases on the Hanns Heinz Ewers novel. Erich Von Stroheim plays defrocked mad scientist Professor Jacob Ten Brinken, who has created a baby by means of artificial insemination–which was the reason for his removal from the university. The Professor used the sperm from a convicted murderer and the egg from a slum-living Hamburg waitress of easy virtue. He names the baby Alraune (the German name for the narcotic mandrake root), and raises her as his daughter without telling her the secret. Brinken keeps her a secret from all but his servants, as he fears she has inherited her parents’ evil. But his sponging university student nephew, Frank Braun (Karl Boehm), shows up one night at his mansion to hit the Professor up for some money to pay his tuition for medical school and discovers the beautiful Alraune (Hildegard Knef), and immediately falls in love with her. Alraune has just run away from a convent where she felt like a prisoner, and is also immediately attracted to the young man. They make plans to be together in Paris where Frank is heading the next day to study medicine; that is, after being turned down by his uncle he receives tuition money from the wealthy Princess Wolkonski–interested in having Frank marry her airhead daughter Olga. But in a fit of anger, before Frank leaves with Alraune, Brinken tells his nephew about the artificial birth and he leaves without her.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

The sci-fi film is turned into a freaky soap-opera tale as Alraune as revenge for being dumped entices Frank’s friends, the artist Ralph and Count Gerold, to fall madly in love with her, and then wills their deaths as an uncontrollable evil comes over her. When she finds coachman Mathieu getting in her hair, she puts the whammy on him and he succumbs to an accidental death. It’s suggested that Alraune has magical powers, as she convinces her father to buy a piece of worthless property and valuable mineral water is found. When Frank can’t resist Alraune anymore, he pontificates “whoever is brought up without love is sick.” But before he can elope the jealous Brinken, who can’t bear to have another man be with his love, kills her.

It’s a hokum sci-fi film that only resonates because Von Stroheim is at his Prussian best as a man possessed by his incestuous love for his foster daughter and arrogant about his superior intellect. Von Stroheim’s a treat to watch, but it’s still a dull visual film that never made good use of its unusual premise and was never emotionally satisfying as a drama.

Mandragore Poster


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”