The Importance of Being Earnest

Original Title: Liebe, Scherz und Ernst. (Vielleicht bist Du das große Glück.) Musical comedy 1932; 92 min.; Director: Franz Wenzler; Cast: Charlotte Ander, Georg Alexander, Harald Paulsen, Adele Sandrock, Ilse Korseck, Gertrud Wolle, Julius Falkenstein, Erich Kestin, Hilde Hildebrand, Kurt Lilien, Gerhard Dammann, Gustav Püttjer; Nostra-Tobis-Klangfilm.

A respected authority figure invents a trouble-making sibling to cover up their own city adventures, while their ward falls in love with the fictional character. On a trip to settle the sibling’s debts, the ward secretly sends a letter to help a stranded person. Misunderstandings and romantic entanglements ensue, culminating in the stranded person being mistaken for the fictional sibling. All couples find happiness and even the family elder gives his blessing.

John Petersen is a strict and highly respected county supervisor living on his estate near the city. He takes care of his ward, Eva, whom he considers a dear and kind uncle and an exemplary guardian. Miss Priemel, who has fallen in love with the municipal secretary, serves as Eva’s governess.

However, in the city, there is Uncle John’s wayward brother, Ernst. His reckless behavior, unpaid bills, and legal issues often lead Uncle John to make frequent and sudden trips to the city. Today is no exception. Eva really wants to go with him, but it’s out of the question. Uncle John flatly refuses; he doesn’t want his ward to ever meet this unreliable brother. But Eva is, of course, in love with this charming scoundrel, and she tells her present friends the most romantic stories.

Before Uncle John leaves, she puts a photo of herself in the car bag with greetings and kisses for her beloved Uncle Ernst. Uncle John has two private secrets. First, he has a girlfriend named Lilly, who wrote to him saying she’s coming from the city to visit him on the estate. Second, he doesn’t actually have a brother named Ernst; he invented Ernst so he could have more fun in the city. His joy is therefore not great when he sees Lilly at the train station. He asks her to get in the car and only return with him to the city. She can get out on the open road; it’s a long way to the estate.

There’s a broken-down car on the side of the road. Trouble. And ladies on top of it. Just what he needed! What’s left for him as a true gentleman? Stop! The young lady is nice, very nice indeed. But the old lady accompanying her is Senator Störtebecker. After the rural police officer was called to watch over the stranded old car, they drive to the city. At the wheel is Ernst-John, with Lilly beside him. In the back of the car is Senator Störtebecker with her family, granddaughter Gerda, and grandson Klaus. Ernst-John, of course, hasn’t missed the opportunity to arrange a date with Gerda. Lilly, of course, noticed it, but she can’t prevent it.

However, Gerda’s strict grandmother, the senator, contorts her face with the rigid folds of moral outrage when she realizes in the evening in the rooftop pavilion that there is a secret understanding between Gerda and John-Ernst. She takes fate into her own hands and rushes out with Gerda and Klaus before John-Ernst realizes it. So now, poor John Petersen sits at the bar, completely heartbroken, with his newfound love, and eventually, after closing time, he ends up completely drunk in a taxi. John keeps muttering, “I am my younger brother Ernst”!

Eventually, the chauffeur searches the passenger’s pockets, finds a driver’s license in the name of “Klaus Störtebecker,” and drives the gentleman there. On the country road, the rural police officer had mistakenly exchanged Petersen’s and Klaus Störtebecker’s driver’s licenses. The drowsy butler opens the door and nods understandingly. Klaus, awakened from sleep, is highly surprised when John-Ernst is pushed into his room. But they quickly understand each other. Klaus, upon discovering Eva’s photo in Petersen’s driver’s license, falls in love at first sight and wants to meet Eva. However, the next day, when he visits the senator to ask for Gerda’s hand, he is rejected. Klaus’s prospects of pursuing Eva are thus suddenly very slim as well.

But he knows how to handle the situation, and eventually, Gerda does too. The senator finds herself facing a mutiny from her grandson and granddaughter and angrily drives to Petersen’s estate. After much confusion and strong words among all parties involved, she finally gives her sarcastically blessed approval to a triple engagement. This is how Gerda and John-Ernst Petersen, Klaus and Eva, and in the autumn of their lives, Miss Governess and the elderly municipal secretary found each other.

Georg Herzberg’s review in Film Kurier No. 241 (October 12, 1932)
The authors B.E. Lüthge and Curt I. Braun have taken significant liberties with Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. They graciously transformed the proud aristocratic lady into a rambling senator with a similar intellectual structure. In the spirit of Adele Sandrock, the film ultimately succeeds. Each line delivered by Sandrock elicits resounding laughter from the audience. It is advisable to pause after her remarks to allow for laughter, ensuring none of her subsequent words are missed. There is no need to consistently dress up this talented actress in a “comic” manner; she shines on her own without extravagant costumes.

Director Franz Wenzler’s primary achievement lies in providing Sandrock the opportunity to flourish. Although he hasn’t held the director’s baton for long, he exhibits all the characteristics of a seasoned veteran in his work. This is more of an observation than a criticism since routine is indispensable in an industry that deals with large audiences. It is challenging to work with artists who create aimlessly, even if their creations are brilliantly original. It is easier to collaborate with seasoned professionals. The ideas in this film often feel as if they have already existed, despite having an original touch on paper. One can sense that much thought was put into them by the authors or during the director’s conference. However, the transfer of these thoughts onto celluloid lacks the creative spirit. Film ideas must be conceived twice, at the drawing board and in front of the camera.

As a result, the film achieves nothing more than a delightful comedy, with the male actors taking the lead over the female cast. Georg Alexander wholeheartedly embodies the joyful boyishness of his character, playing the role of a womanizer who pretends to be a respectable official at home but wreaks havoc in the city as his mischievous alter ego. Harald Paulsen is equally charming, facing a challenging role as the stern Adele’s grandson.

Charlotte Ander has demonstrated greater agility in her previous performances. Ilse Korsek engages in conversation effectively but appears stiff in delivering the musical numbers. (Regarding the musical interludes: please refrain from excessive use of landscape shots to illustrate the songs!)

Gertrud Wolle, Julius Falkenstein, and Erich Keston elicit plenty of laughter in their supporting roles. Technically, the film is well-executed, with Eduard Hoesch and Bruno Timm handling the cinematography, H. Hrich taking care of the sound, and Max Heilbronner tastefully constructing the sets.

Ralph Erwin has composed lovely and catchy music, with Fritz Rotter’s lyrics providing some original twists. The applause at the end was strong, primarily directed towards Adele Sandrock, who unfortunately was not present to witness it, much to the disappointment of the audience.