I saw 'Inge Larsen' in October 2006 at the Cinema Muto festival in Sacile, Italy. The five-reel restored print was patchworked from sources in Deutsche Kinemathek (Berlin) and Gosfilmofond (Russia). These had some of the original intertitles but also had 'flash' titles that were handwritten! Worse luck, some of the flash titles were only keywords, and one was illegible. Any reconstruction of these is guesswork at best.
Further, there's evidence (from trade publications of the time) that 'Inge Larsen' was originally a seven-reeler butchered before its release. (The usual procedure is to butcher a silent film AFTER its release.) The beautiful brunette Henny Porten had been a star at Ufa until producer Hanns Lippmann lured her away with the offer of her own production company. 'Inge Larsen' was filmed by that company for distribution by Ufa. The original release was scheduled for December 1922 ... yet there were later retakes, and the film's eventual Berlin premiere was in October 1923. Apparently, Henny Porten -- the film's nominal producer as well as its star -- radically shortened or removed sequences in which she didn't appear, deleting subplots and obscuring motivations of subordinate characters. My synopsis of this movie may seem simplistic; the film seemed that way when I saw it.
SPOILERS AHEAD. Wealthy aristocrat Baron Kerr holds a minor government post, and is sexually involved with sloe-eyed temptress Evelyne. A storm at sea shipwrecks the injured baron near the remote home of impoverished fisherman Larsen (Leopold von Lebedur) and his wife, who live with their virginal young daughter Inge (Henny Porten, looking beautiful but not very virginal) in their wee hut (which looks more like a garden shed I owned once, or an Anderson shelter). Inge is chastely involved with Jan Olsen, a strapping local youth who is missing a few straps.
While Inge nurses the injured baron, he proposes marriage. She ups sticks and straight away becomes Baroness Kerr ... but we see that Inge's no gold-digger, because she and the baron live quietly in a small rural estate. (Next-door over to Madame Bovary, no doubt.) Conveniently for the plot, the Baron is suddenly appointed to a cabinet position, requiring Inge to force herself to move into a mansion in the big city and attend posh parties every night.
However, Inge now gives birth to a bairn (a baronet?), proving that the baroness isn't barren. Having tasted the high life, Inge now stints everything else but her child ... even neglecting her husband. The baron, meantime, has renewed his relationship with Evelyne.
Meanwhile (this movie has no end of meanwhiles), Jan has come to the big city and befriended the baron's valet Wronsky. (Wronsky is played by an actor named Vronski; I always find this sort of thing distracting. Did they have to name the role after the actor?) Anyroad, Jan and Wronsky go to a fascinatingly sleazy cabaret where Sally Bowles would have felt right at home. A fight breaks out, and Jan is injured. Wronsky takes the injured Jan back to the mansion, where Inge bandages him; their reunion is fond but innocent. However, the baron -- still tucking in his shirt-tails from his latest tryst with Evelyne -- sees Jan departing, and hypocritically accuses his wife of infidelity.
Jan gets arrested on a charge of SCENE MISSING. The distraught Inge has been a devoted mother ... but now she decides to jump into the river and take her baby along for drowning lessons. (The baby is wet anyway.) This being apparently Berlin, the river Inge chooses is presumably the Spree. But her Spree is interrupted: just as the peeress jumps off the pier, Inge and her baby are fished out of the water by Wronsky. (Shouldn't that be Jan's job? He's the fisherman!) The valuable valet brings Inge home to her parents' remote fishing hut. Jan is acquitted; he trudges home, and he and Inge look for happiness together. (It's over there, behind the hut.) Und baby makes drei, although maybe not dry. Fade out.
I truly couldn't follow some parts of this movie at all, which may due to my dwindling powers of comprehension but which could also be down to the original production problems with this film ... made worse by the (impressive, but far from perfect) restoration. There are some beautiful exterior sequences filmed on the coast of Rügen (a Pomeranian island in the Baltic Sea) for the scenes among the fisher-folk, and in Copenhagen for the scenes of Inge's posh married life. Henny Porten's heroine Inge is showcased prominently in the location sequences, whilst the sequences without Porten tend to be interiors which were probably studio-based.
Henny Porten was typically cast as women who were compassionate rather than merely passionate; her sex appeal was usually tempered by casting her in roles with a maternal aspect. I must give her credit: during the Third Reich, Porten was placed under considerable pressure to divorce her Jewish husband. She stood by him, fully aware that this would ruin her career (it did) as well as endanger her life: amazingly, she made a modest post-war comeback even though her beauty had faded.
'Inge Larsen' is a turgid soap opera which is well-staged and has some excellent production values, but which (in this butchered form, at least) offers little that isn't on better offer in 'Madame Bovary' or 'Camille'. I usually consider the term 'chick flick' to be reductive and dismissive, but in this case it's a fair description. Henny Porten's beauty and talents are adequately displayed in her surviving Ufa films. In its current form, 'Inge Larsen' is most useful as testimony that, as early as 1921, an actress was willing to butcher a film to serve her own ego ... and, more happily, also as testimony to the dedication and commitment of modern-day film archivists and restoration workers. To these unsung heroes and heroines, I say 'Skoal'! I'll rate 'Inge Larsen' a cautious 6 out of 10.
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