The First Right of the Child

Original Title: Das erste Recht des Kindes. (Aus dem Tagebuch einer Frauenärztin.) Social drama 1932; 80 min.; Director: Fritz Wendhausen; Cast: Hertha Thiele, Eduard Wesener, Erna Morena, Helene Fehdmer, Hermann Vallentin, Lotte Stein, Traute Carlsen; D. L. S.-Tobis-Klangfilm.

A typist and a student. When their relationship has consequences, a female doctor is not allowed to help. There is not enough money to seek the help of a quack. As the desperate woman struggles for her life after a suicide attempt, the female doctor remembers all those she was not allowed to help due to the threat of an outdated legal provision.

Professor Bergmann, a destitute woman with pre-war views, has a daughter named Lotte, who is her everything. The Bergmanns have seen better days. However, Lotte now works as a typist for a lawyer, and they both rely on her earnings for survival.

Lotte’s daily route to the lawyer’s office takes her through the city park, where she encounters her friend, the student Herbert Böhme. Herbert has received a letter from his father, notifying him that the financial support will cease. Lotte decides to postpone her planned confession until later in the afternoon.

By now, Lotte should have been at the lawyer’s office, but she has detoured to see Dr. Baumgarten, a doctor. As Lotte’s absence raises concerns in the office, she flees from the doctor’s door upon hearing the sound of a factory siren, realizing how late it has become. Eventually, Lotte arrives at the office, visibly distressed, catching the attention of her best friend. After learning the cause of Lotte’s despair, her friend supports her in a comradely manner.

Lotte is then called to dictate, but she visibly struggles, battling an impending fainting spell. Overwhelmed, she eventually collapses from her chair. Given a day off, she heads straight to Herbert Böhme’s room without revealing the truth. However, Herbert eventually comprehends her troubles. Lotte flees once again, hoping to speak with Dr. Baumgarten. The doctor is familiar with Lotte and assumes she refers to her own mother. Naturally, the doctor rejects Lotte’s request, but Lotte is determined not to bring the child into the world under any circumstances. As a typist with a meager salary of 120 marks, she cannot afford to lose her income. Moreover, the man involved cannot provide because he is impoverished.

Finally, the doctor seems to have persuaded Lotte to discuss the matter with her mother, to which Lotte apathetically agrees. However, the doctor senses that Lotte will never speak up. Their parting is fruitless. On the street, Lotte realizes the impossibility of confiding in her mother. She attempts to seek help from a doctor, but how can she come up with 100 marks? All her efforts fail. Desperate, she finds herself on a dark staircase landing, where she overhears the voice of a dubious “wise” woman. This charlatan demands 20 marks, but Lotte cannot even afford that amount. Eventually, she stands at the edge of a canal, her portfolio dropping to the ground, as she leans over and grips the bridge railing…

Meanwhile, Herbert, restless with worry, visits Lotte’s apartment only to discover her absence. The doctor, equally concerned, arrives at Frau Bergmann’s residence, puzzled by Lotte’s connection to a women’s doctor. Quick to think on her feet, the doctor lies, saying she wanted to hire Lotte as a secretary. Just then, the doorbell rings, and a police officer’s voice is heard: “Are you Frau Bergmann?” He delivers Lotte’s portfolio and the contents of her bag.

Lotte Bergmann lies drenched on a sofa. The doctor despairs at the consequences of her rejection. Together with another doctor, she strives to revive Lotte. Fortunately, their revival attempts succeed, although Lotte remains gravely ill and feverish, confined to her bed. Her experiences resurface in her dreams, intertwining with the fates of countless unmarried mothers and young girls. She witnesses the joys and hardships of motherhood, with one resounding demand consistently emerging: the will to have a child.

Lotte Bergmann has now become a lawyer and an advocate for all women, embodying Margaret Sanger’s profound and beautiful words: “The first right of the child is to be welcome!”

L. H. E.’s review in Film Kurier No. 249 (October 21, 1932)
The debate surrounding the case of Dr. Kienle from Stuttgart has brought an age-old, yet ever-new problem back into the realm of discussion. The film, aiming to expand on the subject matter, cannot ignore this topic.

A woman penned the screenplay for this film about the illegitimate child—the same woman who crafted the compelling plot in the film M.

This time, Thea von Harbou takes a different approach, delving into the problem starting from the plot. The story of Gretchen, a young office clerk caught in an unexpected situation, serves as the starting point. Through feverish visions, the woman rescued from the water experiences the fate shared by hundreds of thousands.

Thea von Harbou explores the subject matter from various angles. She proclaims, “The first right of the child is to be welcome,” while also stating, “We are not against the law.”

The author avoids engaging in the battle over legal paragraphs; instead, she allows individual stories to subside, blending them into the symphony of mothers.

To have a child or not, that remains the question here.

This dazzling subject, with its multifaceted nature and potential for ethical or economic solutions, provides an opportunity for an experiment in styles.

The strongest impact is felt where women’s distress, presented statistically, finds expression. Images of misery emerge, accompanied by their accusations. The epic statement captivates with its proximity to reality. (However, the transition from the reference to women’s happiness to the image of a mother hen and a fruit tree weakens the emotional impact.)

From the “J’Accuse,” from the overflow of the heart, the film moves towards its strongest scene: a telephone operator must quickly establish connections, plug in lines, and in the moments between, through unspoken thoughts, the everyday fate of many reveals itself through fragments of speech.

Existence and the problem merge into an inseparable unity here—replacing the report form and the plot with a new, unique desire for style that immerses itself in the reality of life without abstraction or typification.

Dr. Wendhausen, whom audiences are pleased to encounter again after a long hiatus, handles the material with care. He possesses the sense, seriousness, and willingness to devote himself to the work and extract its utmost potential.

He guides his team meticulously through E. Scharf’s sets, while Fritz Planer’s reliable and unadulterated camera work aids in juxtaposing vision and plot.

Under his direction, Hertha Thiele naturally unfolds and reveals much of the peculiar mixture of her raw intimacy. Alongside her, Erna Morena, occasionally Hermann Vallentin, the Fehdmer, the distinct Hedwig Schlichter, Lotte Stein, and Eduard Wesener deliver remarkable performances. Franz Wachsmann’s music aligns with the film’s mood.

The film receives applause because it resonates with many: women who find their cause expressed through sympathy and empathy, and men who encounter thought-provoking questions.

Once again, the issue-driven film enriches the cinema.