A Mad Idea

Original Title: Ein toller Einfall. Comedy 1932; 86 min.; Director: Kurt Gerron; Cast: Willy Fritsch, Rosy Barsony, Dorothea Wieck, Ellen Schwannecke, Max Adalbert, Harry Halm, Heinz Salfner, Wilhelm Bendow, Fritz Odemar, Paul Hörbiger, Jakob Tiedtke, Leo Slezak; Ufa-Klangfilm.

A painter turns his uncle’s castle into a sports hotel, mistakes a dance girl for the daughter of a buyer, while his girlfriend is comforted elsewhere. Meanwhile, the buyer loses his money and the painter stays with his dance girl and the hotel business.

Paul Lüders, a young Munich painter, has no money. His uncle Michael Lüders has been a art dealer for 30 years, has a castle with a famous art gallery, but also no money. Birnstiel is still a art dealer – who buys art these days – and has no money at all. Uncle Michael wants to sell his castle to a rich Englishman, Mister Miller, whose daughter Mabel is studying in Munich, with Bob, a kind young man, giving her assistance. To complete the purchase, Uncle Michael is travelling to London and allowing his nephew to stay at Castle Birkenfels for four weeks, allowing the boy to save on rent. Paul also has work, as Birnstiel brings a project to Birkenfels – a poster for a winter sports hotel. Paul paints on the castle terrace, but he lacks a female model, something elegant and attractive. – Paul thinks of his countless little friends, the last one being Anita, the crazy little dancer who could lie so amusingly and now waits in vain for him in his city apartment. She is not allowed to come to Birkenfels under any circumstances, Uncle Michael has expressly forbidden it; Paul should live solidly and without women for a few weeks.

Already, disaster approaches in the form of a large, heavy man, who sings and speaks of himself in a magnificent voice:

Today I’m in a great mood,
Oh, how I’m feeling good,
Today I must be simply merry.
Today it all seems the same,
Whether I’m poor or I’m lame,
Today my world is shining sunny!

This hefty man is Theo Müller, manager of the famous 10 Millergirls and father of the lovely Evelyn. He sees the poster in front of the castle gate, thinks Birkenfels is a winter sports hotel, steps in and asks for rooms for 11 people. Paul directs him to Birnstiel, who thinks Paul said to, and confirms the rooms. Actually a brilliant idea thinks Birnstiel, and he carries on renting out rooms. There are plenty of them. Mr Wendolin, a man desperately seeking peace and quiet, also rents one, and Evelyn arrives with the 10 girls and a smitten bandleader who has just forgotten about his wife for the sake of the pretty Evelyn. The house is quickly filling up, personnel is being hired, and the hotel is flourishing.

Meanwhile, Uncle Michael is negotiating with Mr. Miller in London, who telegraphs his daughter to take a look at Castle Birkenfels. Of course, her friend Bob must come along. Paul is also notified by Uncle Michael and assumes Evelyn Müller to be the daughter of the wealthy Englishman, and must be treated especially well. Moreover, she is also lovely, Paul finds, and promptly falls in love. Evelyn also finds favor in Paul, but the many models, all the pretty girls, bother her. Anita interrupts the conversation, which is gradually becoming warmer, as she had grown bored in Munich. Paul is angry and jealous of the conductor, and Evelyn is jealous of Anita. The 10 girls all love Paul:

You’re the man the ladies adore,
For us oldies you are the hero –
You are one for many,
But for none to any,
We’re unheard and riled,
You’ve driven us oldies wild.
We dream of you oldies all the while!

But Evelyn thinks differently:

I’m looking for one who belongs to me alone,
Who pampers me and even worships me,
A man who’s too beautiful has no purpose,
Else another one will take him away from me!

Anita and Evelyn are in a funny battle for Paul, and now Mabel arrives in Birkenfels incognito with Bob as Dr. Schmidt and Mrs. Even Mabel’s father and Uncle Michael, who have rushed to Birkenfels upon a phone call from London to investigate a mysterious head waiter, decide to drive to the castle immediately to see what is going on.

Evelyn, finding the suitor Kapellmeister’s application bothersome, secretly moves into Birnstiel’s room, giving the unexpectedly arriving Mrs. Kapellmeister the opportunity to capture her husband. Paul, not able to sleep due to the shenanigans of the lovesick girls, also takes refuge in Birnstiel’s room, unknowingly lying down on the divan not far from Evelyn, peacefully sleeping in Birnstiel’s bed.

Evelyn presents Paul as her husband to the girls and Mabel the next morning. This strikes Anita so hard that she desperately takes refuge in Bob’s arms, which pleases Mabel since she is now rid of her pseudo-husband when her father and Uncle Michael arrive.

Mabel’s father has no more money to buy Birkenfels, but now Paul and Evelyn know what to do: the new castle hotel “Belvedere” will provide for the young couple. And so, in the end, everyone can sing:

Today I’m in a great mood,
Oh, how I’m feeling good,
Today I must be simply merry.

Georg Herzberg’s review in Film Kurier No. 113 (May 14, 1932)
This film is timely in that in it, no one has any money. A castle owner is figuratively forced to chew on bricks, a young painter has a small museum of unsellable pictures, an Englishman gets the obligatory telegram about his banker’s bankruptcy, and a dancer also has no money.

The painter’s unilateral action of transforming his uncle’s castle into a winter sports hotel in his absence proves to be the last resort from the general stagnation.

Carl Laufs pre-writes the material, and Philipp Lothar Mayring and Friedrich Zeckendorff guide it into the right cinematic paths. This manuscript is good work. It compensates for what the plot lacks with a wealth of episodes and subplots. Something is always happening in the film, so the audience can’t complain about lack of variety. Winter mountain shots are cleverly used as a setting for the plot, allowing the filmmakers to move away from the confinement of the original stage performances and display their pure filmmaking skills.

Kurt Gerron continues to build on his chain of successful directorial works, having integrated himself wonderfully. His films are full of life and made by someone who sees the world with a watchful eye, obviously having great fun when making them, and possessing the important trait of pleasing audiences with what pleases him. He clearly does not suffer from the inner conflict of many of his peers who pretend to be able to do more than they are allowed to show.

When debating the whole issue of foreigners, whether in Hollywood, Paris or Berlin, it comes down solely to performance.

There is a limit to one’s ability where researching nationality should be left alone. Garbo is Garbo, first and foremost a Swede. Dietrich is Dietrich, Chevalier is Chevalier and Alpar is Alpar. Nobody needs to import what each country has in average. Only one who can do as much as Barsony can say anything against their engagement. The artist’s problem cannot be solved like the question of agricultural labor.

Willy Fritsch, featured twice in the next few weeks as a star, confirms his reputation as the first heartthrob of German cinema.

Ellen Schwanneck is the chosen one this time. She probably never dreamed of being the partner of the great Willy as a young girl, but she plays her part in her own way, as a loving, proper girl with wise eyes.

She should not oversimplify gestures and language nuances, otherwise she will someday find herself stuck in a too narrow range of expression.

Max Adalbert and his audience are joyfully reuniting after the necessary pause. He fills a grandly constructed role all the way to the final clearing of his throat.

Leo Slezak is hammering the evening’s hit into us with a powerful voice, Tiedtke’s rotundity is spreading smiles in the parquet, Hörbiger, Bendow and Sandrock are leading episodes to victory.

Unfortunately, Dorothea Wieck has nothing to play. Fritz Odemar, Harry Halm and Heinz Salfner are completing the ensemble.

Walter Jurmann writes the pleasant melodies and Fritz Rotter the lyrics, while Hans Otto Borgmann takes care of the technical work.

Konstantin Tschet and Werner Bohne are delivering beautiful outdoor shots. Julius von Borsody is building the sets, and Dr. Gerhard Goldbaum is responsible for the sound.

Bruno Duday is in charge of production and Erich Holder is the assistant director.