February 4, 2013

Women in horror during the 1920s - part 3

I'm going to jump ahead a couple of years past "Körkarlen" (1921) with Hilda Bogström (one of Sweden's most legendary silent film actresses), skipping Lola Urban-Kneidinger in "Anita" (1922) - a German film about hypnotism, and even completely ignoring Lois Meredith in "The Headless Horseman" (1922) because I can't find any big pictures of any of them. I do, however, still encourage you to watch all of these movies especially "Körkarlen" (below).

Should you have more hours to spare, I also recommend "Häxan" (1922) since it was the most expensive Scandinavian silent film ever made and features lots of women (some of whom get naked). It's a documentary about "witchcraft through the ages" with many dramatised scenes which place it nicely into the horror genre. Some may prefer the shorter updated version with jazzy background music and narration by a rather bored sounding William Burroughs, but I don't.

And so, having reached 1924, there really is only one horror movie worth going into any detail about along with its female co-star...

Alexandra Sorina in The Hands of Orlac (1924)

Alexandra Sorina as Yvonne Orlac

Polish-born Alexandra Sorina has a massive role in this Robert Wiene film which easily equals that of Conrad Veidt. "The Hands of Orlac" begins with Yvonne Orlac reading a sexy letter from her husband, and she remains as the focus throughout the frantic search of the train wreck. From then on, she's never more than a couple of minutes away for the first half of the film. Conrad Veidt may have the lead, but there's so much going on in their relationship that Alexandra Sorina is far from being a supporting player.

Yvonne loves flowers a little bit too much.

Yvonne is by Orlac's side from the moment he is found. She begs the doctor to save Paul's hands, shows a huge range of emotions as she waits expectantly outside his operations, and is by his bedside as he recovers. Yvonne is desperately in love with her piano-playing spouse and, in spite of feeling more and more neglected as time passes, is still the one who faces the couple's creditors as they run into debt. She even goes to Paul's estranged father, who she's scared to death of, to beg for money. Paul Orlac may be traumatized from having his hands replaced by those of a supposed murderer, but that's no reason to be quite such a useless bugger. It's pretty obvious who wears the lederhosen in this marriage, and it sure isn't piano boy.

Yvonne Orlac realises that she'll have to hold Paul's pee-pee.

Imagine, if you will, that with Paul Orlac's predicament, Yvonne probably has to hold his thing for him while he pees and wipe his ass. I'm sure she's up for giving him relief in other ways too even though it's never shown. In spite of being extensively censored (and banned) in some places until 1996, "The Hands of Orlac" isn't a very adult movie in that way.

Yes, I do know that "The Hands of Orlac" was censored because of its potential to encourage far-fetched criminal activity, but this still isn't a thriller for little kids. Some of the situations stray precariously into areas which a modern director would have a field day with. Unfortunately, none of the American remakes so far have ever had the balls to visit those places because, let's face it, they're American and most Americans are coddled overgrown children with childish tastes. Looking back on the "old dark house" horror-comedies which were released in Hollywood during the 1920s and 1930s, it's pretty obvious that the rot had set in quite early on and the industry never recovered. Despite borrowing imagery and trying to remake everything, Hollywood horror has always been a poor substitute for the European classics. People who moan about the lack of originality in today's Hollywood don't have a clue. While European filmmakers were highly obsessed with adapting plays and bestselling novels, Hollywood never had an original idea to begin with. But I've digressed.

The uber hot maid with Yvonne Orlac.

As far as wives go, Yvonne Orlac is almost perfect. She may suffer from bouts of syncope (although that could still be considered a bonus) and a tendency to cuddle bunches of flowers, but she loves the sexy off-the-shoulder dresses so much that they barely stay on her. It's just a pity that she isn't quite as hot as their maid, Carmen Cartellieri, who must be able to cook and clean like a real woman should, but you can't have everything. Slightly pudgy faces, rosebud lips, excessive eye make-up and bad hairstyles were clearly the "in thing" in 1920s' Germany. Aside from a few emo kids with puppy fat who I've seen on Tumblr, I don't think that look is coming back any time soon so start hitting those treadmills and leave the cakes alone, fatties!

If you want to see Alexandra Sorina's outstanding performance in "The Hands of Orlac", or simply want to enjoy Conrad Veidt grimacing, holding his hands out a lot and lurching around the screen as if his legs don't work either, once again, I've embedded the full movie for you below. Ignore the medical impossibilities and enjoy!

Tomorrow: Mary Philbin in "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925)

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