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An Austrian military officer and roue' attempts to seduce the wife of a surgeon. The two men confront each other in a test of abilities that ends surprisingly. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Delightful alpine movie - review of the Austrian version
This is a review of the Austrian version of the film, which is available on the R2 Edition Filmmuseum DVD. I believe it is also available in the States on Kino DVD in the truncated American version that has a different sentiment.
Blind Husbands is a story about folks holidaying in the alps (Cortina specifically). The main characters are a famous American surgeon, his wife Maguerite, and Leutnant von Steuben, a German military man (the filmmuseum English subtitles are a bit misleading here because they translate the intertitles referring to him as an impostor, whereas I believe von Stroheim's intention was to portray him as someone unfit to wear the uniform rather than literally not allowed to wear it). Von Steuben is played by von Stroheim himself.
He's meant to be a philanderer of married women. He looks the part, excepting that he is actually very short, shorter in fact than Maguerite. The world may have changed a lot in ninety years, but I doubt the women back then were too different from women today who are generally unable to take the advances of men shorter than themselves seriously.
I'll give the world and the female race the benefit of the doubt for the movie's sake. Von Steuben is after a clinch with Maguerite, but he's already had a squeeze with two of the hotel serving girls by the time he gets round to her. He's got a soft target really, because the husband is much too self-involved to notice that his wife is feeling lonely and in need of rekindling. Obviously where the title "Blind Husbands" arises from.
There's quite a lovely dinner scene outside the hotel in Cortina at night, there's all these paper lanterns in lines interspersed with the permanent hotel lanterns, very pretty really. Maguerite excuses herself from the hubbub and goes inside to play the piano. Whilst sat at the piano we see her head shot against a totally black background, quite an unusual shot for a film of any era. It's at this point that she appears totally alone, not just lonely, but alone. Back to the normal shot and Steuben has sidled in. He picks up a violin and starts to play a duet. What a powerful thing to do to one in such a suggestive frame of mind! Part two of the plan is to buy her the marquetry box that hubby was too busy to notice that she wanted. It's apparently two hundred years old, the design on the lid is all lozenges and grains, really reminded me very much of a Matisse type pattern, we get a lovely close up of it.
As it happens there are another two shots against a dark background, one of a bell ringing in the bell tower (to mourn the dead) and one of von Steuben pointing his grubby finger at Maguerite.
Most of the film basically concerns the von Steuben/Maguerite cat and mouse game. Can't blame him for chasing Maguerite really, my favourite shot of her was her wearing these lovely antique sunglasses with wildflowers in the back of her alpinist hat band. The movie is all shot really quite sympathetically, I'd almost call it realism, a surprising term for a 1919 film! According to others the level of mise en scene is apparently not up to Foolish Wives or Greed standard, but I'll go with it on an absolute basis.
If you see the movie as containing realism, then the ending is a bit of a cop-out, a sop to dramatic cliché. However we'll let Erich off as it still kind of works. The movie turns into a bit of a bergfilm at the end, American superman, surgeon, strong, weakling German braggart, this being totally exposed as they climb the mountain, having been rather sotto voce before.
The only silly part of the film concerns the shadow of an eagle, which is blatantly produced by a crude silhouette hanging on the end of a wire (unless eagles can fly backwards), yikes! Other than that though I thought the movie was brilliant.
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