Spoiling the Game

Original Title: Strich durch die Rechnung. Comedy 1932; 99 min.; Director: Alfred Zeisler; Cast: Heinz Rühmann, Toni van Eyck, Hermann Speelmans, Margarete Kupfer, Jakob Tiedtke, Gustl Gstettenbaur, Ludwig Stössel, Flockina von Platen, Fritz Odemar, Harry Hardt, Otto Wallburg, Fritz Kampers, Willys Schrittmacher; Ufa-Klangfilm.

A young cyclist faces financial constraints in acquiring spare bicycles for a race, but his fiancée, who has previously helped him, is reluctant to seek help from her father, a bike store owner. A race manager recognizes his potential and devises a plan to manipulate the outcome, urging him to relinquish victory for prized Stern wheels. Misunderstandings and doubts strain the relationship, but ultimately, the cyclist emerges triumphant, reunites with his partner, and regains her trust.

“The Golden Wheel of Germany” shines in vibrant colors on billboards and construction fences, captivating the attention of the press and public who eagerly discuss the prospects of the year’s biggest cycling race. Among the contenders, Erwin Banz, the beloved Berliner and reigning cycling champion, faces skepticism about his age affecting his chances of victory. His manager, the hefty Paradies, confidently declares that Banz will emerge as the winner. Meanwhile, Manuel Rodriguez, the renowned South American cyclist, poses as a formidable rival to Banz, and the young newspaper deliveryman, Willy Streblow, is considered inexperienced in comparison. However, sport journalist Donath holds a different perspective after witnessing Willy’s impressive training sessions. Willy himself possesses unwavering faith in his abilities, but he must overcome the challenge of acquiring two spare wheels for the race.

Reluctant to seek assistance from his fiancée, Hanni, due to her father’s disapproval, Willy faces a dilemma. Yet, his ardent supporter, Hanni’s younger brother Gustl, takes it upon himself to secretly procure the wheels. Paradies, who recognizes Willy’s potential to outshine Banz, attempts to manipulate him into relinquishing his opportunity to win, a feat he has already accomplished with Rodriguez. However, Willy, guided by his integrity, refuses to compromise. His determination remains unwavering—to win the race, secure a favorable contract, and marry Hanni. Nevertheless, complications arise when Spengler discovers the missing wheels and suspects Willy’s involvement. While Hanni defends him and rushes to his side, Willy feels hurt by her momentary doubt, leading to an angry parting.

Where Paradies fails, the aging world champion Banz succeeds. He convinces Willy to relinquish his pursuit of victory, enabling Banz to secure a contract with Arkona after being released by Stern-Werke. In return, Willy will receive the now-available Stern wheels since Banz will ride for Arkona. The day of the “Golden Wheel” race arrives, drawing thousands to the racetrack. In his box seat, the elderly Stern is accompanied by Lißmann and Gina, while the racers’ cabins buzz with activity. However, Willy’s spirits are dampened, as his hopes for victory and love for Hanni have been clouded by deceit. Even Gina’s interest in him proves insincere. Left in tears at home, Hanni confides in Gustl, who plans to attend the race. Gustl finally confesses his well-intentioned theft, rekindling Hanni’s joy. Determined, she decides to go to the race and sends a few lines to Willy in his cabin.

The race commences according to Paradies’s plan. Banz dominates the first half, with Rodriguez obediently securing second place, and Willy, despite a brilliant start, falls behind to third place, trailing his pacesetter. Disheartened and annoyed, Willy retreats to his cabin while the crowd boos and criticizes him. Meanwhile, Banz smirks and signs the contract with Arkona. The second half of the race unfolds, and an unexpected turn of events transpires. An envoy from Rodriguez’s homeland appears in a box seat, igniting the South American cyclist’s ambition to win. With his contract secured, Banz finds himself unable to surpass Rodriguez. In a heated moment, Banz calls out to Willy, urging him to go away. Willy complies and pedals like a demon, relentlessly closing the gap between him and Rodriguez. The audience, consumed by breathless suspense, witnesses the moment when Willy overtakes Rodriguez, leaving him in the dust.

Amidst the roaring cheers of the crowd, Willy takes the victory lap and then affectionately kisses his courageous partner, Hanni. Onward, always onward, while we’re still young, we demonstrate our capabilities! Even if the task is arduous, the aim is to be the first—just keep pushing forward!

Georg Herzberg’s review in Film Kurier No. 253 (October 26, 1932)
The search for a new film setting and the associated narrative possibilities has resulted in a resounding success in this film. It possesses the crucial “unique touch” that sets it apart from the crowd.

Authors Philipp Lothar Mayring and Friedrich Zeckendorf have delved into the lives of endurance cyclists who tirelessly pedal their kilometers on the velodrome behind pacemakers. It’s not merely a battle of legs but also a clash between bicycle factories and managers, with numerous deals being made and races being sold.

The film’s greatest strength, adapted from a comedy by Fred Angermayer, lies in the authors’ and director’s profound understanding of the sporting aspects. It evokes a slight shudder when one recalls some football films that disregarded the sport’s fundamental elements, making it easy to imagine what could have gone wrong here.

At the heart of the film is a young newspaper delivery boy defying all odds to win the classic race known as the “Golden Wheel.” It is undoubtedly a tale of ascent, but it diverges from the cliché “rags-to-riches” narrative where destitute individuals magically amass wealth within a few film minutes. A successful endurance cyclist must start small, and this natural portrayal adds authenticity. Director Alfred Zeisler deserves praise for consistently grounding the film in the realities of life, guiding the cast towards a genuinely human and unpretentious tone. Rarely has the language of the people been captured so authentically in a folk-style film.

With minimal directorial and acting efforts, the film achieves compelling effects. A notable example is Hermann Speelmanns’ outstanding portrayal of the aging sports hero, who, having neglected to plan for the future during his years of success, now resorts to desperate measures to secure a meager retirement fund. The audience erupts in applause after a few quiet and simple words. Filmmakers and directors uncertain about the principle of creating timely films should watch this masterpiece. There’s no need for a sign on the cinema’s exterior proclaiming, “A contemporary film is being shown here.” What truly matters is providing the audience with an opportunity for deep emotional connection.

Heinz Rühmann flawlessly embodies his role, effortlessly captivating the entire Ufa-Palast audience as the brash, ambitious, good-hearted, and carefree young protagonist. Toni van Eyck portrays a sweet and kind girl deeply in love with Willy, always ready to assist him in any predicament. However, she can turn unpleasant when Willy lavishes too much attention on his wealthy rival, the intriguing Flokina von Platen.

Once again, Jakob Tiedtke delivers a magnificent performance. He grumbles about the world at large, especially his intended son-in-law, but ultimately rejoices in the final success more than anyone else.

It’s truly admirable how Otto Wallburg, the ever-busy actor, consistently brings new characters to life. In this film, he masterfully portrays a busy manager, perpetually agitated yet delivering a marvelous performance.

One could easily write an entire article about ten more actors in the film. From the rugged Bavarian Fritz Kampers to the vivacious Berliner Margarete Kupfer, and including Ludwig Stößel, Harry Hardt, and the mischievous boys Gustl Starck-Gstettenbaur and Kurt Pulvermacher, a smaller version of Papa Wallburg. Zeisler has accomplished an extraordinary ensemble performance.

The cinematography, expertly handled by Werner Brandes and Werner Bohne, particularly shines in the thrilling race shots. Max Kagelmann managed the sound, while W. A. Hermann and H. Lippschütz made notable contributions to the set design. The music, composed by Hans Ott Borgmann, enhances the overall experience.

The audience genuinely delighted in the film, and the theater owner who screens Strich durch die Rechnung is certain to fare well. Its success will undoubtedly be a boon for Ufa, rather than a setback.

Bruno Thierfelder skillfully conducted the enthusiastic Ufa Symphony Orchestra, eliciting demonstrative applause from the audience.