Original Title: Mensch ohne Namen. Life portrait 1932; 92 min.; Director: Gustav Ucicky; Cast: Werner Krauß, Mathias Wieman, Helene Thimig, Maria Bard, Hertha Thiele, Julius Falkenstein, Fritz Grünbaum, Eduard von Winterstein; Ufa-Klangfilm.
A factory owner who lost his memory for years after a gas attack returns from Russia, is officially declared dead, is not recognized by his own wife, and is taken for a fool or imposter. Realizing the fight for his name and wealth is hopeless, he assumes another name by court order and begins a second life.
Heinrich Martin was buried during a major war offensive and lost his memory. He wakes up in a Russian hospital and must learn the Russian language like a child. One skill remains with him: he is an excellent automotive technician, which leads him to a Russian car factory.
One day, when a German delegation visits the factory, Martin spots a magazine in one of the men’s pockets. He opens it, sees pictures of Berlin, and suddenly rediscovers his true self: he remembers his native language and knows who he is.
After sixteen years of absence, he returns to his homeland. Here, he is already considered dead. His wife has married Martin’s best friend, Dr. Sander, who now runs the major automotive factory that used to belong to Martin. Time, illness, and emotional turmoil have transformed Martin into a different person. When he visits his friend and wife, they do not recognize him. They initially mistake him for an impostor and then for a madman. The authorities also refuse to acknowledge Martin’s name, as he cannot prove that he is truly Heinrich Martin. The returning hero fights a desperate battle for his name, his rights, and his possessions.
Eventually, he gives up, not to despair, but to start a new existence alongside a young, vibrant girl.
Walter Jerven’s review in Film Kurier No. 154 (July 2, 1932)
It’s not just this nameless individual; it’s the one whom Werner Krauß brings to life with the uniqueness of his acting and artistic personality, making him believably visible. It represents all the nameless ones who gain symbolic embodiment here, the army of those condemned to vanish into the vast anonymous human stream because it would be inconvenient to acknowledge their existence.
Through Werner Krauß, whose performance is infused with the profound “inner calm of the sea” that permeates all truly living things, this nameless person rises above his individual fate and attains the sublime, the enduring essence of the symbolic and allegorical, enveloped by the timeless and eternally valid.
“All that is transient is but a metaphor!” Even the transience of this person’s memory, standing amidst pounding, hissing machines in a Russian automobile factory, becomes a metaphor. The gas that robbed him of his memory during the war, on the front lines of Dünaburg, is akin to the gas compositions in laboratories today, where “inventors” lose themselves in creating the hissing music of future world concerts.
This metaphor represents a world that loses more as it “finds,” a world that increasingly forgets the memory of life and would require a moment like Heinrich Martin, the man without a name, to be able to remember.
A fleeting moment; the frozen eyes gazing at the pictures in German magazines, seen by German gentlemen in the Russian machinery plant. And Heinrich Martin remembers who he is. He returns to Germany, once again sees Berlin, where another—formerly a friend—now rules his Martin factories, occupies his house, and has married his wife. He stands as a minuscule existence in the meticulously maintained registry of the fallen. Touching, this death address book, the ladder leading up to the vast cabinets, seemingly infinite, a heavenly ladder to hell. (The initial spontaneous applause breaks the grip of the captivated audience at the Ufa Palace.)
This ladder becomes a symbol of a world governed by regulations, into which Heinrich Martin, lost in the depths of his existence, can no longer ascend since he has been “recorded” as dead in its registers.
Accounting does not tolerate corrections. The balance must be correct. The individual is unimportant; the system is important. Although the magistrate, the guardian of the system, claims, “Understanding people is more important than paragraphs!” Eduard von Winterstein’s portrayal of this magistrate is a poignant and futile effort to understand the human, hindered by regulations, just as his judicial role barricades his comprehension of people.
And yet, the nameless one, a zero in the eyes of the authorities, becomes a number once again. He will likely be punished for insulting an official. He is allowed to matter again because one must assert oneself. He becomes a Schulze in the realm of Lehmann, Meier, Müller, in the grand ensemble of the nameless!
The nameless one’s fate runs in countless variations alongside this embodiment of the nameless through Werner Krauß. The more he becomes entangled in a world that seeks to deprive him of justice, the more visibly apparent the universality of individual fate unfurls in the monumental simplicity of this magical creator.
Films with themes—the audience demands it, the theater owner says! Here is a theme that becomes the subject of many versions.
It speaks through Werner Krauß (less so through Ucicky’s direction). It speaks through the mysterious radiance of his embodiment of the human. The creator surrenders himself completely to the experience of creation and finds himself again in the complete shaping of the experienced.
If the director Ucicky avoids delving into too many realistic minutiae within the framework, it enhances the effect of such sovereign acting. The impact of this actor on the partners who willingly absorb his vibrations to unfold more personally within them is palpable. It is evident that they have placed their characters in relation to Krauß’s nameless figure, shaped by it, with inner playfulness. The quiet Eva-Maria portrayed by Helene Thimig, the commission agent Julius Falkenstein, also commissioned within their comradeship, a likable character like Schulze-Grete—front-line soldiers of the army of the nameless! Never despair, always stay on top, even if it is challenging to stand out, to be something special! How beautifully and cheerfully typified by Maria Bard, without a suffocating atmosphere of confined spaces, in her meager little room.
Fritz Grünbaum, a kind of naturalist lawyer, receives bursts of laughter. Along with Falkenstein, he brings out the lighter side of Liebmann’s script, accompanied by Allan Grey’s music, which strikingly characterizes the atmosphere of the moments, providing this fate with a reconciling conclusion, a relieving and relaxing happiness.
A premiere as if it were the peak season! A lot of applause, many curtains, between which the actors must repeatedly bow.