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75 7 Telling Others How to Act The Theater am Schiffbauerdamm had its biggest success in 1928 with Brecht’s Threepenny Opera. Otherwise, its output remained uneven. Members of the Nazi Party organized a production of Es brennt an den Grenzen (There’s fire at the frontier), written by former Murnau associate Hans Kyser, and the left-wing Truppe 1931 presented Gustav von Wangenheim’s comedy Da liegt der Hund begraben (There the dog lies buried). Thus, the theater’s historian Wolfgang Jansen wrote, “The Theater am Schiffbauerdamm became the embodiment of the torn German society , for whose problems the democratic parties seemed less and less competent .”1 It was not until the winter of 1933 that this house resumed a regular schedule. Fritz Wendel, a member of the Nazi Party, avoided obvious propaganda and added to his ensemble such popular comedians as Willi Rose, Rudolf Platte, Rotraut Richter, and Ursula Herking. It was in this house, which today is called Berliner Ensemble, that Veit Harlan debuted as a stage director with Wolfgang Böttcher’s musical comedy Hochzeit an der Panke (Marriage on the Panke) on January 23, 1935, the title referring to a stream that passes Wedding, Berlin’s proletarian district . The Communist actor Gerhard Bienert delivered some subtle jokes aimed at Minister Hermann Göring. Reviews were mostly poor, but audiences loved the production. Harlan’s direction was acknowledged for its liveliness. Herbert Jhering wrote that, “considering the lack of professionally schooled directing newcomers, it is a good idea to try out new talent. Harlanjusthastolearntodeveloptheactors’ownpersonalities.Sometimes it seems as if Harlan had forced his own way of acting on the performers. . . . The production stood and sat. But it also has to suit the actors.”2 Jhering realized that Harlan, on his very first directing job, had not left his actors much room to breathe. They were not allowed to relax and had to act his way. veit harlan 76 Having found his real vocation in directing, Harlan was able to get over the fact that the first film in years starring him as the male lead turned out to be a disaster—but at least it was a quiet one that nobody noticed. The long-delayed film Nur nicht weich werden, Susanne! (Don’t get soft, Susanne!) was finally released in January 1935. It should get some points for eccentricity, but it is also unwatchable both as an anti-Semitic satire on the film industry and for purely artistic reasons. Goebbels was understandably furious at the incompetent director Arsen von Cserepy and screenwriter Peter Hagen, canceling the next Cserepy project, Seine Exzellenz Graf Zeppelin (His excellency, Count Zeppelin), starring Otto Gebühr. Harlan was unusually subdued as the poor, decent taxi driver afraid his girlfriend Susanne might be seduced by a Jewish mogul. He was in another ambitious failure that year, the first German talkie with a scene in color, Der rote Reiter (The red rider), a high-society melodrama that may have inspired Harlan to do Opfergang. Its characters carry such recherché names as “Livius” and “Etelka.” During a variety scene, some orange, yellow, green, and blue were seen onscreen, but that was it. Harlan played, for the last time, the spoiled son of a rich family—not the lead. He got a much better supporting role in Erich Waschneck’s militarist drama Mein Leben für Marie Isabell (My life for Marie Isabell), set in 1918, an adaptation of Alexander Lernet-Holenia’s novel Die Standarte (1934). Marie Isabell is not the name of a female love interest, but of a regiment. Before the film’s premiere, drastic cuts were ordered, for the censors considered Waschneck’s mutiny scenes too seductive, enabling audiences to sympathize with soldiers who disobey.3 Harlan repeated his role from Flüchtlinge, trying with some success to cause panic and unrest. Critics were horrified by the casting of witty, debonair Viktor de Kowa in the male lead, and sensing that Harlan conveyed the spirit of the film much better, the film company’s publicists assigned him to introduce the first public screening by reciting from Rainer Maria Rilke’s epic poem Cornet. Mediocre roles in mediocre films: Harlan should not have cared anymore about the roles he was getting in films after his second directing job at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm. Krach im Hinterhaus (Trouble backstairs ), by Maximilian Böttcher, turned out to be a triumph, although—or because—it depicted the National Socialist Volksgemeinschaft in a most unpleasant...


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