WILDCAT, THE (Bergkatze, Die)

(director/writer: Ernst Lubitsch; screenwriter: Hanns Kräly; cinematographer: Theodor Sparkuhl; editor: Nina Goslar; music: Marco Dalpane; cast: Pola Negri (Rischka), Victor Janson (Kommandant der Festung Tossenstein), Paul Heidemann (Lt. Alexis), Wilhelm Diegelmann (Claudius), Hermann Thimig (Pepo), Edith Meller (Lilli), Marga Köhler (Frau des Kommandanten), Paul Graetz (Zofano), Max Gronert (Masilio), Erwin Kopp (Tripo), Paul Biensfeldt (Dafko); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; Kino; 1921-silent-Germany-in German with English subtitles)

“Subversive and very funny film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A classic anti-military satire directed by Ernst Lubitsch (“Trouble in Paradise”/Design for Living”/”The Shop Around the Corner”) and cowritten by him and Hanns Kräly that was restored in 2000 in Berlin. Its witty dialogue is rhymed like an operetta and it describes itself as “a grotesque in four acts.” The military fort is done up with corkscrew staircases in an art deco fashion, most of the shots are taken on weird Caligari angles, and it’s filmed in a masterful German expressionist style.

A young Lothario named Lieutenant Alexis (Paul Heidemann) as a punishment for his womanizing is sent to this remote snowbound German military post in some fairytale land just outside of a mountainous place called Piffkaneiro. On the way there, he’s attacked by border bandits who rob him and strip him of his uniform. Rischka (Pola Negri) is the wildcat tomboy daughter of the bandit leader Claudius (Wilhelm Diegelmann), who is smitten by their clean-cut captive and thereby saves his life. The lieutenant soon returns to the fort in his fancy undies, where the incompetent and corpulent commandant (Victor Janson), whose harridan wife (Marga Köhler) keeps him under her thumb and his troops don’t respect him, finds that his love-starved daughter Lilli (Edith Meller) is smitten with the new arrival after seeing him in his skivvies and when pop’s not busy twirling his oversized handlebar mustache he arranges for her to marry him.

There’s an hilarious military expedition after the bandits, as the troops show how cowardly they are in battle but nevertheless at the end of the day claim victory. Rischka and five bandits sneak into the fort and drink with the drunken commandant and rob the place blind, while she becomes aware of her femininity by using Lilli’s perfumes, makeup and trying on her fine dresses. She attracts Alexis and boldly kisses him. But after returning to the bandit’s hideout and after dreaming about marrying him, in the end class differences are too great for Rischka and Alexis to cross in the real world and she departs leaving him for her fellow slovenly bandits. In a surprising unhappy ending in this subversive and very funny film, where not only is the military mocked but also the institution of marriage—Alexis marries the dull Lilli.

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