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285 23 Heimatfilm Noir When Unsterbliche Geliebte (Immortal beloved) was released on January 31, 1951—slightly off center in the North Rhine-Westphalian town of Herford—business proved as healthy as expected, and, more surprisingly, reviews were favorable, too. The Evangelischer Filmbeobachter found Harlan’s handwriting unmistakable: Style, conception, and execution are so typically Harlan that even the omission of his name in the credits never leaves the spectator with a doubt about who the director is. . . . What he presents us with is a very dense, self-contained filmic work that may in some places be a bit overdone but tells with emphasis about the high ideals of love, faith, and philanthropy. There may be people who resent Veit Harlan particularly for his Christian declarations, but we have no reason not to believe in a change of his worldview under the oppressive experiences of the past years. . . . A pleasant discovery was that the figure of the priest, who in Storm[’s novella] does not have too many lovable traits, has been turned by the film into an impressive, humane personality.1 For the Film-Echo, Unsterbliche Geliebte belonged to those works “that speak to the Gemüt [soul, mind] and to the heart. . . . A film above which hovers unwritten the word from the Bible: ‘He who is free of sin may throw the first stone.’ Magnificent performances, excellent cinematography, and painstaking direction.”2 Hans Hellmut Kirst, later to become the bestselling author of Night of the Generals (which Anatole Litvak turned into a film starring Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif, 1967), wrote in the magazine Der neue Film, “This ponderous material from a faraway, sunken world has been dissected by the director Veit Harlan into individual images that veit harlan 286 are extraordinarily well-done in stylistic terms. He aims at beauty, atmosphere , and the symbolic force of the visual. His cinematographer, Werner Krien, achieves this as well, operating masterfully with floodlights and muted shadows; his exemplarily lighted interiors have the expressiveness of old paintings, and the close-ups seem forceful and suggestive.”3 The Katholischer Film-Dienst conceded that “in religious and ethical respects the film also has stronger points. Katharina knows herself, in everything she is doing, to be responsible in the face of God; the firm rejection of the attack on the unborn life that is imposed on her deserves a double emphasis in our days.” But this paper also complained about how the Protestant priest gives up Katharina, who had already become his wife, when her true love, Johannes, reappears. “Thus, the film’s danger lies in the fact that it encourages the increasing problem of secularization of marriage.” The priest’s utterance, “That judgment isn’t spoken by God but by the people,” found little favor with the Catholic reviewer, who nevertheless admired the “in every way delicate convergence of the sexes.”4 Georg Behrens’s more negative review in the Lübeckische Blätter discerned an “alarming lack of intuitive feeling for the sanctity of marriage. . . . The case is particularly serious because this film has been received by the broadest strata of our people with affection and enthusiasm. . . . Blended by the film’s high technical and artistic qualities most spectators obviously haven’t realized that in this film marriage is ceremoniously overruled.”5 Unsterbliche Geliebte is a film by an exhausted man, a weakness that turns out to be a virtue. In it, there are none of the stylistic excesses of Opfergang. Although Kristina Söderbaum’s first appearance is in a reproduction of Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s painting The Swing (1767), which Josef von Sternberg had already used to introduce Marlene Dietrich in The Scarlet Empress (1934), Harlan chose not to follow in the footsteps of the exuberant, hedonist rococo painter or indulge in Sternbergian opulence . He instead approached a Dreyeresque rigidity and asceticism. Some suspension of disbelief is necessary to accept forty-one-year-old Hans Holt and thirty-eight-year-old Kristina Söderbaum as innocent Romeo and Juliet lovers, but overall both project a purity that makes their behavior seem credible. The film begins like a Victorian thriller, a Gothic mystery. As part of an art exhibition celebrating the northern German region Schleswig-Holstein, Angelika von Hollstein (Kristina Söderbaum) is, like the woman in the Fragonard painting, sitting on a swing. (Readers may suspect carelessness behind the inconsistent spelling of the names Heimatfilm Noir 287 “Holstein” and “Hollstein” here, wondering which is correct. Both names have the same...


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