The Gala Performance

Original Title: Die Galavorstellung der Fratellinis. (Spione im Savoy Hotel.) Crime comedy 1932; 79 min.; Director: Frederic Zelnik; Cast: Alfred Abel, Leonard Steckel, Olga Chekhova, Max Adalbert, Walter Slezak, Leo Peukert, Margot Landa, Eugen Rex, Karl Stepanek; D. L. S.-Tobis-Klangfilm.

A charity event at the “Savoy Hotel” in Berlin becomes the backdrop for a series of events. As the clowns, musicians, and guests entertain, a theft occurs, involving an important document and a feared female spy. Amidst the chase for the thief, romantic entanglements unfold, leading to reconciliations and a satisfying resolution, while a radio reporter’s career receives a boost with a captivating broadcast.

As the elite world gathers at the Savoy Hotel for a charity show featuring renowned clowns Gustavo, Max Fratellini, Gino, and the Gloria-Jazz performers, a disheveled man discreetly enters the hotel. Amidst the captivating performances, nobody pays attention to him, not even the mesmerized hotel staff. Quietly, he makes his way into the management office and requests employment. The director politely declines his request, but the man, reaching into his pocket, reveals a revolver. A gunshot echoes through the room, and he collapses lifeless onto the floor.

Startled by the sound, the director hastily exits the office, desperately calling for assistance. Upon returning with the hotel detective and a few employees, they find the room empty. The body has vanished, and the contents of Mr. Palmer’s safe, the English diplomat, have been stolen. This safe held an irreplaceable and crucial document. Mr. Palmer is immediately notified and becomes highly agitated at the loss.

When Mr. Palmer returns to his room, he discovers the stolen contents of the safe meticulously placed on his desk, accompanied by his unharmed secretary, Schrott. From the room’s speaker, the announcer’s voice reveals that the infamous spy known as “The Countess” or Madame Livskaja has turned to Berlin. It becomes apparent that Mr. Palmer orchestrated the theft of the document himself due to the presence of Madame Livskaja in the city.

Miss Mabel Harris, a stunning and graceful woman, strolls along the hotel corridor, unknowingly passing by the management office. As fate would have it, she overhears a heated argument between the director and the detective regarding the theft of the safe. Meanwhile, the show continues to captivate the audience.

In the midst of the event, the passionate radio reporter, Alfred Braun, accompanied by his slightly clumsy assistant, Gottlieb, is present to provide updates to his radio colleagues. The Gloria-Jazz ensemble, led by their conductor Kurt, with Susi, Paul, and Jackson in prominent roles, is currently performing the tango “Mach’s mir nicht so schwer.” Susi’s father, the poet responsible for the tango’s lyrics, confides in Braun that Kurt’s relationship with Susi has undergone a noticeable change. Kurt has become enamored with Miss Harris, a woman of irresistible charm, and his newfound infatuation has led him to neglect not only Susi but also his artistic pursuits.

Braun, being a friend of both Kurt and Susi, assures the concerned Wengert that he will intervene and address the situation. He willingly allows Kurt to introduce him to Miss Harris, arranging a rendezvous with her later in the evening aboard the houseboat “Jupiter.” Meanwhile, Gottlieb, who intends to exit the hotel through the staff exit, encounters the paternoster and recoils in shock upon discovering an unconscious body within one of the cabins. The paternoster halts, and the man, identified as Mr. Palmer’s secretary, Schrott, is rescued—he is alive, though incapacitated. This time, the papers have indeed been stolen.

Just as Alfred Braun is preparing to depart from the hotel, he encounters Gottlieb, who seeks solace in a cognac to recover from the startling discovery. Gottlieb fills Braun in on the incident, and soon, Jackson and Paul from the Gloria-Jazz ensemble join them, already aware of the audacious robbery. While engrossed in conversation, an intriguing figure with an exotic appearance approaches the porter, requesting to be announced to Miss Harris but adamantly refusing to disclose his name. This piques Braun’s curiosity even further.

Unbeknownst to them, the mysterious man seeking an audience with Miss Harris is Almasy. Miss Harris intends to sell Mr. Palmer’s document to him, but their negotiations reach an impasse, leading to an angry departure by Almasy from the room.

While Braun engages in dancing and flirtation with Miss Harris aboard the Jupiter houseboat, a hand bearing a bite wound discreetly slides a document into the frame of Miss Harris’ picture.

The animated conversation between Braun and Miss Harris is abruptly interrupted by Gottlieb, who urgently brings a professional matter to their attention. In the meantime, Gottlieb plans to distribute the pamphlets. Braun assures them he will return shortly.

Wearing Miss Harris’ borrowed coat, Braun hurriedly rushes into Miss Harris’ room at the Savoy Hotel, embarking on a search for the elusive document. A knock on the door startles him. Reacting swiftly, Braun extinguishes the light, plunging the room into darkness as a man enters. The two men engage in a struggle, their movements concealed by the obscurity, and it is only when Braun flicks the light back on that he recognizes his adversary—it’s Kurt. The commotion in Miss Harris’ room catches the attention of a waiter nearby. Moments later, a pneumatic tube warning descends onto Miss Harris’ table. Despite Braun’s continued search, he fails to uncover any traces of the document. Kurt remains composed, steadfast in his refusal to believe that Miss Harris could be the thief responsible.

In an unnoticed moment, Kurt discreetly takes Miss Harris’ picture, as she had consistently refused to provide him with a photograph despite his pleas. Without waiting for Braun’s return, Miss Harris leaves the houseboat and anxiously searches her room… only to find the document missing. She immediately contacts the unknown individual and informs them that the document has been stolen, stating that none other than Almasy could be the culprit. The following day, she confronts Almasy directly about it.

Meanwhile, the management of the Tivoli has organized a children’s performance, complete with a zoo for the little ones. Amidst the joyous atmosphere, Miss Harris nervously scans her surroundings, and Kurt rushes to her side. They are introduced by Jackson. However, it becomes apparent that Miss Harris and Jackson are already acquainted. Jackson, no longer willing to participate in Miss Harris’ perilous schemes, reluctantly agrees to her proposal due to her dire financial situation: he will steal the proceeds from the sold-out box office of the Tivoli Variety. The theft is quickly discovered, prompting the police to secure all entrances and exits of the theater. Jackson finds himself unable to reach Miss Harris’ box and deliver the stolen money. Resorting to the disguise of the incapacitated Gustavo Fratellini, he manages to make contact with Miss Harris by infiltrating the audience. Just as he hands over the money, the real Fratellini bursts out of the dressing room and onto the stage. Jackson is forced to flee, triggering a chaotic pursuit throughout the theater.

As the grand variety show commences, Braun, Gottlieb, and Kurt successfully apprehend the imposter Fratellini-Jackson. During the commotion, Kurt’s picture of Miss Harris slips from his pocket, shattering on the ground and revealing Mr. Palmer’s pilfered document. Unbeknownst to them, Mr. Palmer is also present in the theater, having already identified Almasy. Driven by the fear of facing the authorities, he divulged to Palmer that Miss Harris is in possession of the coveted document…

Miss Harris is arrested. Mr. Palmer has his document. Susi and Kurt have found each other… and Braun had the opportunity to deliver one of his most interesting reports to his radio friends.

j-n.’s review in Film Kurier No. 262 (November 5, 1932)
The famous Fratellini clowns, renowned for their performances on the world’s grandest variety stages, both open and close the film. However, it’s important to note that despite the title, it’s not a typical variety film. The audience’s initial expectations and excitement are redirected towards settings and characters that never materialize.

As a result, the audience needs to mentally readjust until they grasp that the story leads to a sophisticated and intricate crime plot. Drawing inspiration from predecessors like Der Hexer and Der Zinker, the film takes the audience on a thrilling rollercoaster ride. It is a tale brimming with surprising twists, and director Frederic Zelnik clearly relishes leading the audience astray with clever misdirection.

The film revolves around the theft of a valuable document from a hotel safe, orchestrated by the secretary of an English diplomat acting on his orders. The objective is to corner an international swindler who has recently resurfaced at the hotel.

The fact that the events unfold as if happening in front of a microphone injects liveliness into the proceedings. Alfred Braun, the Berlin announcer, portrays a radio reporter present at the hotel. As the trail finally leads unmistakably to Olga Chekhova, who masterfully portrays the swindler with restraint, discretion, and a captivating appearance, the radio listeners are treated to a rare sensation (unfortunately absent in the rigid program of reality).

The film’s suspenseful plot keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, engrossed in eager speculation accompanied by murmurs and whispers. However, they consistently guess wrong. Just when they think they have it figured out, the plot springs out of the box!

The sequence of scenes, supported by the mysteriousness of the meticulously designed locations by Gustav Knauer, allows cinematographer Reimar Kuntze to create effective contrasts of light and shadow, along with subtle mood nuances that envelop the ensemble of actors in an enigmatic atmosphere.

The film maintains a noble line of performances throughout, with one exception—Alfred Braun’s assertive character. Alfred Abel portrays the diplomat with a confident demeanor, while Max Adalbert’s character, oblivious to the unfolding criminal events, brings immediate humor.

Margot Walter and Leo Slezak, members of Gloria-Jazz, seamlessly blend into the discreet overall performance. The magnificent singing of the Comedian Harmonists is received with special gratitude from the audience.

The film features a tango called “Mach’s mir nicht so schwer” by composer Otto Stransky, which leaves an immediate and lasting impression.