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91 9 Prestige Films of the Nazi era are generally divided into two categories: propaganda and escapism—that is, blatant indoctrination and pure entertainment. But there was also a niche for the art film, which definitely does not entertain, is not uplifting, presents no positive role models, expectedly fails at the box office, and still leaves its participants proud to have achieved something exceptional. The best international example of the art film is Carl Theodor Dreyer’s La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928), a financial debacle and yet an instant classic. Within Nazi Germany, examples include Frank Wysbar’s Fährmann Maria (Ferryman Maria, 1936), starring Sybille Schmitz, a favorite of U.S. historian William K. Everson1 ; Herbert Selpin’s Die rote Mütze (The red cap, 1938), also known as Heiratsschwindler (The marriage impostor); Karl Ritter’s Die Hochzeitsreise (The honeymoon, 1939); Hans Bertram’s Symphonie eines Lebens (Symphony of a life, 1943), starring the FrenchactorHarryBaur;PeterPewas’sDerverzauberteTag(Theenchanted day, 1944); and almost everything directed by Werner Hochbaum. Harlan’s contribution to this category was Maria, die Magd (Maria, the maid), his first melodrama, shot from mid-July to mid-August 1936. Owing to his previous successes, he apparently now enjoyed carte blanche and could choose a subject of his own. He chose a most personal one. “What inspired this film had happened to me, yes, to myself,” Harlan confessed to a journalist visiting the set. “When I was still a very small child, my parents gave me to the care of a maid who always wore her Wendish costume [the Wenden were an ethnic minority with a West Slavian background] and whose name was Maria Klimank. (I used that name for the film, too.) I visited this Marie Klimank—only in the big city she was called Maria—once again, much later. She died only recently. Anyhow, this Kindsmagd, as people said back then, once took me with her into her village, and the village kids took me with them on their crab fishing. The maid was looking for us veit harlan 92 desperately, and since we were hiding under a bridge, she could not see us, and we could not hear her calls because the wild water made such a noise. At last we were found. My father wrote the novella Die Kindsmagd back then.”2 Asked in this same interview whether the film would be based on this novella, Harlan answered: “Yes and no! Meanwhile many years have passed. I myself have children, three of them, and our maid cares very much for them, particularly since, as you know, my wife often has to appear onstage. The small Susanne, in particular, is loved overwhelmingly by the maid. She has no interest either for a man or her home, and when we made her the godmother of our little Susanne, she was in seventh heaven. Such a love has not existed before. But such a love also contains something dangerous. It makes the girl turn away from her real mother. And if this mother often has to be away, it inevitably happens that the maid is closer to the child than its own mother.” The motherhood of the maid has to be canceled, Harlan insisted, which sounded cruel, but as he explained, “Life is no less so. And our film goes toward the limits of cruelty . It is meant to show true, real, merciless life. For three years I have carried this film plot with me, and slowly I have reached the form it has now.” Harlan made no secret about his sadism, his willingness to go to extremes. Maria, die Magd, coscripted by Axel Eggebrecht, was to be his first autobiographical film, an exploitation of his wife’s latent hysteria. Hilde Körber had never acted in a film up to this point, though she had been considered for the Renate Müller part in Georg Asagarov’s film Revolte im Erziehungshaus (1930) and could be heard in Die Jagd nach dem Glück (The pursuit of happiness, 1930), a French-German short on which Lotte Reiniger had worked with Jean Renoir; Körber dubbed the voice of the latter’s wife, Catherine Hessling. Körber’s late debut in film was unusual considering that even stage actors with no interest in films occasionally appeared in them. Maybe the medium was disinterested in her, not vice versa. Körber was beautiful but no traditional leading-lady material, with her high-pitched, whining voice and resentful...


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