Eight Girls in a Boat

Original Title: 8 Mädels im Boot. Drama 1932; 81 min.; Director: Erich Waschneck; Cast: Karin Hardt, Theodor Loos, Helmuth Kionka, Heinz Goedecke, Ali Ghito, Martha Ziegler, Austin Egen; Fanal-Terra-Tobis-Klangfilm.

An 18-year-old schoolgirl discovers she is pregnant and faces immense pressure from the baby’s father, who urges her to have an abortion. Her own father rejects her, leaving her in a state of hopelessness. However, her rowing club friends rally around her, providing the solace and encouragement she needs. Together, they embark on a mission to challenge the entrenched perspectives of both her father and the baby’s father, inspiring a reconsideration of their rigid stances.

Basking in the sun, immersed in the water, gliding in their boat—these eighteen young ladies have carved out their own realm far from the dusty asphalt, embracing the freedom of God’s nature. They belong to the “Seeschwalben” girls’ rowing club, a place where they discover not only camaraderie but also their spirited leader, Hanna. Under her guidance, they train and push themselves in the racing eight, their focus solely on the lake, consumed by their love for rowing and the sheer joy of carefree days under the sun.

Among them is Christa Engelhardt, a high school graduate and stroke seat of Boat I, who seems to harbor a secret from her fellow rowers. To everyone’s astonishment, she fails her final exams, leaving her classmates, father, and even teachers bewildered. Lost in her struggles, she embarks on desperate paths, mistaking them for adventure and gradually isolating herself from the sunny haven they all share.

Unable to confide in others about her forbidden pregnancy, the eighteen-year-old finds herself compelled by her college student boyfriend to consider a drastic solution—the only apparent way out. She endures a harrowing experience but manages to escape at the eleventh hour. Fearful of facing her family, her only sanctuary becomes the club by the lake, surrounded by her seventeen unsuspecting comrades.

Captain Hanna, embittered by her favorite rower’s perplexing behavior and sensing defiance, resorts to a rigorous regimen to break Christa’s resistance. She pushes Christa to her limits during morning training sessions until the overwhelmed young woman collapses in despair. And then, the “Seeschwalben” discover Christa’s secret—an unexpected revelation that engulfs them with compassion and a sense of solidarity.

For one afternoon, they become courageous allies in the fight for their stroke seat’s destiny, standing united against perceived foes embodied by Christa’s father and even her boyfriend. But as the evening descends and Christa’s future finds resolution, the adversaries dissolve into thin air, leaving the rowing club with a bittersweet epiphany: they are merely a group of dedicated rowers, a girls’ rowing club, not the entire world. Friendship holds beauty, camaraderie is truly magnificent, yet love stands as the ultimate force. They exist to sail in the summer breeze, to embrace the sun’s warmth and youthfulness, and to be unwavering companions whenever someone is in need.

Georg Herzberg’s review in Film Kurier No. 224 (September 22, 1932)
The young Fanal production company, making its debut here, has delivered exactly what we urgently need: a film with its own unique identity. It stands out from the crowd, not to be confused with any other. The film’s distinctiveness is not solely due to its subject matter but also the environment in which it unfolds.

It’s the same old story—a young girl, still in high school and on the verge of graduation, finds herself feeling pregnant without knowing where to turn in her confusion. The film ensures a positive outcome: she avoids the doctor’s intervention, and her father realizes that his child needs loving support rather than wise admonishments that can’t change the past.

The pivotal moments of the film revolve around the rowing club girls standing up for their comrade in her hour of need. They devise daring rescue plans, but ultimately realize that their good intentions cannot override a father’s moral right to help his own child.

The screenplay by Franz Winterstein, based on a concept by Helmuth Brandis, touches upon various issues of the time without firmly committing to a specific solution. Christa has a good and wise father, and it’s better that he shows her the way out. However, not all fathers are good and wise, and in many cases, there should be a dozen young “Seeschwalben” protecting the unfortunate ones.

When it comes to human beings in this world, their problems cannot be solved with simple formulas like a math problem. Each individual fate is unique, and the more one searches for a universal remedy, the more they will realize it doesn’t exist. The strength of the manuscript lies in leaving the questions raised open-ended, not delivering the twenty-first tendentious work but advocating solely for love and understanding.

The value of the work is enhanced by the finesse with which the events of the film are handled. In this regard, the main credit goes to Eric Waschneck’s direction. He presents his girls as they are—slightly silly, curious, and illogical, yet with warm hearts and an irrepressible zest for life. They make just as much noise in the dressing room as they do when meeting in groups on the subway. They are joyful without always knowing why, and they are sad without sometimes understanding why either.

Waschneck spent long days outdoors, capturing the sun, wind, and water on film, and even the studio decorations bring a fresh breeze.

The lead role showcases a new talent: Karin Hardt. A delicate, quiet blondness with compelling expressions, especially when she gazes into the void with her large, fearful eyes. The most beautiful scene is the closing one when the nightmare dissipates, and she can look happily back into life.

Her partner: Helmuth Kionka. A young man of today, without wealth or a grand future, indecisive yet a nice guy. Theodor Loos sketches his father figure with firm strokes, portraying him securely. Ali Githo, the athletic and emotional supporter of the girls, manages to exude authority while remaining believably kind. She too will benefit from this film as a stepping stone in her career.

The role of Martha Ziegler, who plays an unpleasant “folksy” servant, seems like Waschneck’s attempt to achieve theatrical effects. It probably could have done without this “concession.”

Technically, the film is outstanding. Friedel Behn-Grund’s cinematography deserves unequivocal recognition. Alfred Junge designed the sets, and Martin Müller handled the sound. Arthur Rebner did a fine job with the music. The film’s song has the potential to make a lasting impression.

There was strong, sincere applause.