British actress Naomie Harris has been nominated for an Oscar for her role as a crack-addicted mother in the 2016 indie drama Moonlight. "No Small Parts" takes a look at some other roles she's played in her career.
'Scampolo, a Child of the Street' is a starring vehicle for Dolly Haas, an actress specialising in 'waif' and 'gamin' roles, whom I've slagged quite thoroughly in a couple of other IMDb reviews. I find Haas intensely annoying; she does all sorts of little bits of physical business (quivering lips, eyes brimming with tears that don't quite come) that are supposed to just melt our hearts, but which make me want to give her a boot in the snoot. The German-born Haas reminds me of the Italian actress Giulietta Masina, and that's not a compliment to either: they played similar roles, and both had the same annoying bag of 'cute' tricks. Also, both actresses are made even more annoying by the fact that they tend to give their twee performances in films with implausible plotlines.
'Scampolo, ein Kind der Straße' is less mawkish than usual for Haas, for two reasons. Firstly, for possibly the only time in her career, she actually gives a restrained performance. I'll credit this to director Hans Steinhoff: this film was his only collaboration with Haas. (Steinhoff, a member of the Nazi party, would soon devote his considerable talents to films in the service of the Third Reich. He died in a 'plane crash on Hitler's last birthday, in the final weeks of WW2.)
The other factor that makes this film superior to Haas's usual efforts is that (more so than usual) the story is plausible, and it actually depicts conditions as they prevailed in Germany shortly before the beginning of the Reich. There's a whiff of Mills & Boon about several of Dolly Haas's films, but this one shows the poverty, inflation and homelessness that were rampant in Germany just before Hitler's chancellorship (and which helped bring him to power).
Haas plays a waif, as usual, this time named Scampolo ... which sounds more like a name for an Italian boy than a German fraulein. Like a lot of other residents of Berlin at this time, Scampolo has nowhere to live, and must sleep rough. (I found these scenes far more realistic than I expected.) She does have a very low-paying job, doing menial tasks for a laundress (Hedwig Bliebtreu).
Eventually, Dolly meets handsome Karl Diehl. In most Haas films, the leading man is either openly a millionaire or somebody who turns out to be secretly a millionaire. Here, Diehl plays an Englishman: a respectable bank manager who is nonetheless skint because he lost his job and all his money when his bank failed. (Very plausible, this: many European banks were ruined by the 1929 Wall Street crash.) However, so many of Haas's films are so far into fairytale fantasy that I couldn't quite believe this. I assumed that Diehl's banker would turn out to be a wealthy man who was *pretending* to be impoverished, so as to see if Dolly's love is sincere.
SPOILERS NOW. Nope; turns out Diehl was broke after all ... but this is a Dolly Haas movie, so the last reel sees his fortunes restored and he and Dolly fly off to London to get married. (This being 1932, they don't seem to realise they're also getting out of Germany just in time.)
I am certainly no fan of Dolly Haas, but I found this film much more tolerable than usual for her. There is a welcome amount of cynicism in the dialogue and the onscreen situations. As Billy Wilder gets a script credit, I can guess where that cynicism came from. I'll rate 'Scampolo' 6 points out of 10.
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