Original Title: Ballhaus goldener Engel. (Massagesalon.) Modern genre picture 1932; 80 min.; Director: Georg C. Klaren; Cast: Lucie Englisch, Franz Nicklisch, Fritz Kampers, Hedwig Wangel, Adele Sandrock, Carl Auen, Ernst Behmer, Ida Wüst, Senta Söneland, Siegfried Berisch, Else Reval, Bernhard Goetzke; Althoff-Tobis-Klangfilm.
A waiter loses his job in Berlin and takes his fiancée, whose father disapproves of their marriage, to Hamburg. She struggles to find satisfaction in her job at a massage parlor and ends up working as a dancer for him. The young man foils a burglary attempt and is rewarded with a position by the store owner. He then returns to Berlin with his girl to reunite with his parents.
There are still fathers who show little understanding when their children long for a little joy in life, dismissing any such desires with a stubborn “Back in my day, things were completely different.” Father Lemke is one of those, as this phrase has become second nature to him. His daughter Lene, currently looking for a job, has met Rolf, a nice young waiter. Her father doesn’t approve of him at all because he’s just a waiter, and Lemke, being a civil servant, doesn’t consider such a profession suitable.
They meet at the Mocha Lounge, a favorite spot for couples in love, where Rolf works. However, his infatuation with Lene causes him to keep the guests waiting longer and longer, eventually getting himself fired. Now he’s unemployed too. Lene’s friend Hella takes life easier. She has been out of work for a while but still maintains an elegant lifestyle. Lene suspects where her friend gets the means for her lavish living.
The situation at Lemke’s home becomes increasingly tense. The father clearly favors their tenant, the likable Detective Werner Manders, who is much older than Lene. Through him, we are occasionally introduced to a small raid into one of the strangest environments that modern city life offers: “Massage, Beauty Care, Female Attendants” is written on Madame Wolowska’s business card. The six young girls surrounding her in their white uniforms appear very proper, like pretty caregivers. However, occasionally, beneath those white uniforms, lingerie is revealed, and in the cabins, things are done that go beyond mere massages. But what can the police do? The men being “treated” are generally satisfied. If someone truly wants a massage, they will even get one…
Rolf can’t find work in Berlin. One day, he encounters an acquaintance from Hamburg who tells him about a waiter position available at the “Golden Angel” ballroom! Despite his attachment to Lene, he must seize this opportunity. He can’t take Lene with him as he has painstakingly scraped together the money for the trip. There has been another argument at her home, and in this desperate state, Lene allows Hella to take her to Mrs. Wolowska. She is willing to sell herself out of love, just to be able to go with Rolf. But when she sees the guest assigned to her, she backs out. She can’t do it!
Lene sits anxiously, not touching a bite of dinner. Rolfs’ train departs in twenty minutes, and she still doesn’t have the money to accompany him. In desperation, she approaches Werner, the tenant, and concocts a story about money entrusted to her that she has lost. He gives her the money, and without saying goodbye to her parents, she sets off.
Mrs. Schliephaake is the owner of the “Golden Angel” with “Nights at Lido” and beach nymphs in swimsuits. The waiter position that Rolf anticipated is already taken, but she could use his bride! There’s nothing wrong with it! Just dance a bit, have a few drinks with some gentlemen, and nothing needs to happen. When Lene, who agreed without knowing what she was getting into, is supposed to put on her swimsuit and go out into the crowded hall, she refuses to dance half-naked. Rolf promises to talk to Mrs. Schliephaake again, but she convinces him otherwise. When he returns to Lene’s dressing room, a heated argument ensues between them: whether she would rather go home. She can’t! She resigns herself to the inevitable. This is what has become of the little love between these two people, all because there are no jobs available.
“Why not just sit at the bar?” suggests one of the girls sitting behind the counter. But she would have to earn an evening gown first. However, sitting behind the bar is not as glamorous as it seems, as Hella experiences in Berlin. She explains to an elegant, sturdy guy who just ordered two cocktails: “Because once you’ve been to a few of those massage parlors, no one will take you in anymore! The clientele wants variety.” – “And here you are, sighing away instead of looking for a decent guy,” he remarks. She throws him off the barstool, and the elegant crowd in the bar witnesses the exciting arrest of one of the dangerous burglars and escape artists, known as “The Bear,” who is caught by Detective Werner after a wild chase. Hella has impressed him with her strength, and when she meets him later at the pawnshop, where he has already escaped again and is scouting for a new opportunity, she joins him. They both head to Hamburg.
The situation becomes increasingly unbearable for Lene. She can’t bring herself to smile and be friendly when strange men rub against her bare thighs while dancing or touch her swimsuit while drinking at the table. Since she remains faithful to Rolf and never leaves the establishment with another man, their tabs keep decreasing. Mrs. Schliephaake notices everything, and one day, after Lene has once again run up a small bill, she confronts Rolf, who has to stand idly by and gradually falls into a state of indifference: “Don’t bother showing up tomorrow with your girl!” Rolf understands. He isn’t even unhappy about it. But what now?
A guest who overheard Mrs. Schliephaake’s words approaches him. It’s the Bear, who has since arrived in Hamburg. “I have something for you” … “That strong guy Rolf just went out with!” one of the ballroom girls tells Lene as she changes clothes. “Don’t cry, tomorrow you’ll have more money than you can spend…” “Not like that!” is the only thought on Lene’s mind as she walks through the misty streets of Hamburg to catch up with Rolf. She asks around among the street girls and bumps into someone in front of an antique shop, someone more elegant than the others, someone who doesn’t earn her living in this way: Hella! There she sees Rolf, walking toward the shop with the Bear.
“Rolf!” He hears her call, and now he can easily commit the crime he has been drawn into without any fault of his own. “I’ve reconsidered! I’m not going along with it anymore!” “Excuse me?” The Bear doesn’t want an inactive witness. “Because, you see, I have trouble hearing when a small fry like you talks!” Rolf lunges at him. They wrestle. Hella has pulled Lene into a doorway. A punch from the Bear hurls Rolf into the shop window, shattering it. The alarm goes off. The Bear is about to raid the shop window when Rolf attacks him. They wrestle again, rolling down the slope toward the harbor. A knife glimmers in the Bear’s hand. Then: sirens. The police van arrives. The street girls, who had gathered to watch, disappear like ghosts. Hella and Lene disappear with them. Lene can barely stand on her feet anymore. She no longer sees that Rolf has to raise his hands because the Bear has stabbed him and then fled. Only Rolf is arrested.
The boudoir where Hella has brought Lene is very elegant. Everything stolen! Hella shouts at her, “I thought leaving home would heal everything. And now!?” Then the Bear enters. He likes Lene. He throws Hella out. “I didn’t take Rolf away from you, I got rid of him!” Lene is half unconscious in his clutches when the door is kicked in. Hella bursts in with two police officers: “There you have him…” A scoundrel. One of the officers takes aim, but Hella slips away. We don’t learn what happens to her. The Bear is arrested once again. But what we do learn is that Lene becomes very happy because she sees Rolf at the police station; he’s alive and even has a reward in sight for preventing a burglary. The parents are relieved to have their girl back. Even Father Lemke has given up his “In my day” comments. Werner forgives and lets go.
-g.’s review in Film Kurier No. 238 (October 8, 1932)
The commendable intention of creating a film based on current events is evident in Georg C. Klaren’s work. He places two young individuals at the heart of the story, portraying their heroic struggle against unemployment and hardship. They refuse to succumb to these challenges, with the young man avoiding a life of crime and the girl refusing to compromise herself. Ultimately, they don’t become millionaires; instead, their filmic happiness is embodied in the man’s job as a waiter.
However, this case demonstrates that a reasonable and obvious concept alone is insufficient to make a compelling film. While Klaren shows his merits as a writer, his directorial impulses are lacking. The presentation of the film feels unimaginably primitive, as if the actors were left to perform without guidance. Even the involvement of prominent actors in the episodic roles fails to elevate the film beyond this limitation.
Lucie Englisch, in the leading role, is not brought to life by the direction. Franz Nicklisch exaggerates the impersonal nature of a generic existence. If the intention was to employ a non-acting approach, hiring an unemployed waiter instead of an actor could have been considered for such a role.
One notable success in the film is Senta Söneland’s skillful Dietrich parody. Other noteworthy performances come from Ernst Behmer, Hedwig Wangel, Fritz Kampers, Hilde Hildebrandt, Adele Sandrock, and Karl Auen.
The screenplay is credited to Fritz Falkenstein, while the set designs, some of which are quite amusing, are the work of W. A. Herrmann and A. Günther. Willy Hameister handles the cinematography, Max Kagelmann oversees the sound, and Arthur Guttmann provides the music.