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ALRAUNE (aka UNNATURAL), is based on the popular Hanns Heinz Ewers novel.
This version made in 1952, is the fifth and last version filmed. Many
sources state that this film is lost in its English language version, but
since the version I saw everyone spoke English, I can assure you they are
This film is unusual, if only for its premise. Erich Von Stroheim plays Ten Brinken, a scientist who has created a women by means of artificial insemination. Ten Brinken used the sperm from a hanged murderer and the egg from a prostitute. Ten Brinken raises the girl (whom he has named Alraune, German for "mandrake") as his daughter, but is convinced because she was created artificially, she will inherit all the unsavory characteristics of her "parents". Only evil will befall all those who may fall in love with her. And tragic circumstances do follow all the men she tries to fall in love with. There is an odd element thrown in which suggests Alraune has supernatural powers. She convinces Ten Brinken to by a worthless parcel of land. She then commands some workers to start digging where they discover a spring whose waters contain healing properties. Ten Brinken and a wealthy woman invest in it but the spring runs dry and Ten Brinken ends up almost financially ruined.
Despite the films very adult premise, I could not help thinking that this film has the feel of a film belonging in era much older than the 1950's. The few American critics who reviewed the film when it was released in America in 1957 also noted an old fashioned air fatalism throughout the film. Karl Boehm (later of PEEPING TOM) is convincing as the young man who falls in love with Alraune, despite being aware of her ghastly origin and is the only man Alraune finds true love. Critics said he was to naive and boyish for the part, but I think that was what was right for the role.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This fascinating German fantasy film stars the legendary Erich von Stroheim as Professor Jacob ten Brinken, a brilliant scientist who has played God and created the world's first test tube baby. Now fully grown, Alraune (Hildegard Knef) is a beautiful but affectless creature whose way with the opposite sex threatens to ensnare the Professor's nephew (a very young looking Carlheinz Bohm). Alraune's amorality--presumably the result of being bred from the egg of a prostitute and the sperm of a murderer--has not been tempered by a spell in convent and now threatens to destroy the family legacy. Though clearly set before World War II, the film reflects concerns about the misuses of science by the Nazi regime, though perhaps the conclusions it reaches are not that far afield from those of Dr. Mengele. Alraune is a missing link between German expressionism and the Italian Gothic cinema of the early 1960s, with a dash of Jean Cocteau thrown in for good measure. Interesting sidenote: it sure sounds like von Stroheim dubbed his own English language track.
This film is a quiet, Gothic kind of psychological film, and is
interesting and well enough made so as to be watchable in a poorly
dubbed US version. I found the actress in the title role to be
strangely compelling, and convincingly portrayed sexual attraction with
slightly disturbing aspects.
Eric Von Stroheim plays a perverted scientist, which is interesting because Von Stroheim is said to have induced an actual orgy among actors in order to film an orgy scene in one of the silent movies he directed. Stroheim, in his famous roles in Grand Illusion and Sunset Boulevard, was adept at playing formerly great and tragically flawed characters: this role is an interesting variation on this theme.
This film was made in 1952, in Germany, and is concerned with scientist who collects semen from an executed criminal and uses it to impregnate a prostitute; the offspring of this union is the title character. This movie would have had a strong resonance upon its original audience, just 7 years after the end of the Nazi period.
The Nazis, besides having many kinky sexual fetishes, instigated some strange 'breeding' programs designed to induce blonde-haired and blue-eyed people to reproduce. There were hostels, where these blonde and blue-eyed women could stay during their pregnancy, and where they and their offspring could live afterwords, free of charge and enjoying a comfortable lifestyle.
Alraune is the German word for the mandrake root. In folk legend, the mandrake grew beneath the hanged man, and it was the legendary discharge of semen from a hanged man which supposedly caused this plant to grow. In addition, there was another legend in which the mandrake, applied to a woman's nether regions, could instigate a pregnancy, with or without sexual contact from a living man.
This is a slow moving but strangely compelling film, and owes a lot to the beautiful actress in the title role. The subtext is also fascinating.
Brooding scientist Professor ten Brinken (a stern Erich von Stroheim),
thrown out of Uni for his blasphemous beliefs, creates a "daughter"
(Hildegarde Knef) from the sperm of a double murderer and the egg of a
prostitute in his castle laboratory and raises her under the gallows,
where the mandrake root grows. It's an experiment in genetic theory but
true to the plant's legend, Alraune will bring good fortune just before
death and destruction as the movie opens with the girl escaping from a
convent and making her father rich when she divines a mineral spring on
land he bought. Falling for her cousin (Karlheinz "Peeping Tom" Boehm),
Alraune feels something for the first time but luck won't last long and
although her "evil" isn't premeditated (much), she's responsible for an
attempted suicide, a framing for theft, a fatal accident, a duel, death
from exposure, bankruptcy, and public disgrace. The story ends with the
inevitable: Alraune, crying tears she never could before, gives up the
man she loves lest he be cursed, too, and her "father", who gave her
life, takes it away and goes to the gallows in a fitting twist of fate.
The film equates artificial insemination with the crimes of Viktor
Frankenstein but blames the creator since love is what gives us our
souls and Alraune had become human.
The German production's a handsomely mounted, atmospheric period piece with an Expressionism the original 1928 silent lacked, especially in the gloomy castle, and some thunder, wind, and rain are there to underscore a point or two. Obviously THE BAD SEED, a hit Broadway play and Hollywod movie about hereditary evil that came out a few years later, wasn't exactly innovative. The dubbed U.S. version, UNNATURAL: THE FRUIT OF EVIL, is missing ten minutes and eliminates any reference to artificial insemination.
I watched the complete German-language version titled "Alraune" with
English subtitles. It ran 87 minutes in what I think was a PAL version
that reduced its 92 minute time by 5 minutes by running faster.
I see this film, not as a fantasy, but as film noir. Erich von Stroheim plays a doctor who has been drummed out of the profession because of his experiments, not so controversial today. He has introduced the voluntarily-donated sperm of a double murderer, about to be executed, into the uterus of some lowlife woman. This is what is called artificial insemination. This union has produced a real human being (not an artificial creature) that he raises as his daughter. This is the beautiful Hildegard Knef. He chose the parentage intentionally to see if they'd pass on their unsocial behavior genetically.
Knef is now a fully grown woman of about 20 but Stroheim tries to keep her under his thumb in a strict boarding school. She's expelled and then she starts attracting young men, namely Stroheim's nephew (Karl Bohm) and his two friends. One is an artist and the other a count. Stroheim himself seems to want her for himself and so does his associate, a middle-aged doctor who knows Stroheim's secrets. Knef is flirting with all these men and also the horse keeper employed by Stroheim. They are all falling in love with her, but when Stroheim tells Bohm about Knef's parents and background, he leaves for medical school in Paris and breaks off relations with Knef. He is the only one she truly loves, and he really loves her.
In one way or another, with her sly involvement, death starts to come to her would-be lovers. She does not know of her origin but wants to find out and eventually does. Her character is a genuine femme fatale or kind of a siren who has the capacity to lure men to their deaths without actually participating in them.
There's quite a lot of noir photography throughout this film. Since there is no outright criminal or crime but rather a series of romantic attractions and entanglements, the story plays out as a romantically-tinged psychological noir.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Alraune" or "Mandrake" is a West German German-language movie from 1952, so it will have its 65th anniversary next year and this film was made less than 10 years after the end of World War II to put it in perspective. The director is Arthur Maria Rabenalt and it is possibly his most known movie now. Kurt Heuser, a pretty successful writer back then, was in charge of adapting the original novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers, the man who also came up with "Der Student von Prag", a pretty well-known silent movie. But back to this one here. It runs for almost 90 minutes and the title character is played by Hildegard Knef this time, Brigitte Helm in the past. You can compare Knef's turn with Helm's here and it is probably entirely subjective which one you will like more. it is the story of an artificially created woman and how she brings disaster and misery apparently to everybody around her (especially men) because she is not natural. There are certainly a couple connections to the classic "Metropolis" in here and you will recognize them when you see them. But sadly, all in all, it is far from being as good as this masterpiece. I found almost all the supporting characters, also the male ones, mostly uninteresting and Knef alone was not enough to let me appreciate the entire project. This is also because her character lost appeal for me in the second half of the film, or the last third maybe, as we see a plot development that just wasn't working for me at all, but it was needed maybe back then to please the masses. I will not go into detail any further to avoid spoilers. Anyway, this film is another example of how mediocre and forgettable the 1950s were in German cinema. I give it a thumbs-down and do not recommend the watch.
I had watched the best-regarded (if still rare) 1928 Silent version of this much-filmed German melodrama with Sci-Fi undertones during a previous Halloween challenge; while I recall precious little of that one at this juncture, having re-read my review of it, I know the remake features a different conclusion as well as a different method of creation for the titular figure (the more realistic one of artificial insemination here instead of her emanating from the mandrake root, though the plant remains much in evidence throughout even now). Still, offhand, I would say that both films are equally effective with the lead roles being especially well-filled: Erich von Stroheim and Hildegarde Knef (at her loveliest) in this adaptation replacing Paul Wegener and Brigitte Helm respectively in the earlier movie; leading the supporting cast, however, is Karl Boehm (who would excel in his later genre role in the British-made PEEPING TOM ). As I said, events are not exactly fantastic indeed, leaning more towards romance in the vein of two other much-filmed and horror-tinged classics, namely "The Picture Of Dorian Gray" and "Trilby" (often filmed as SVENGALI and whose 1954 British version, incidentally, also had Knef as its leading lady!) but, then, Stroheim does keep a caged ape (which comes to no use other than as an added bizarre touch!) in his laboratory and, in any case, the result is no less stylish for that; all in all, this is ample proof that the Germans did not lose their touch for the Expressionistic with the advent of WWII! The premise, too, of a femme fatale turning the heads of several men, all of whom know one another and naturally fall out over her, is interesting for its distinct film noir trappings in this case, extending to the rethought doom-laden climax that includes a murder and subsequent execution steeped in irony.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have finally managed to catch up with this hard-to-find movie on a
Even in 1952, when the movie was first made, it was already an anachronism, full of the misogyny that seemed to characterise German movies from the early Twentieth Century (e.g. The Blue Angel). Typically they featured a beautiful woman who exerts a fatal attraction on all the men around her and then humiliates and destroys them.
The femme fatale in this movie is Alraune. She is the result of the artificial insemination of a prostitute by a murderer. This 'unnatural union of tainted blood' is posited as the reason for her selfishness, emotional frigidity and destructiveness. However, at the very end, the movie suddenly flips and holds out the possibility that her soulless predation on men is due to nurture rather than nature. I doubt if this is thematic sophistication on behalf of the film-makers. Probably, it is just indecisiveness.
I find this film hard to evaluate, because the print is very poor and there are some baffling artifacts in the DVD transfer that I have never encountered before. More to the point, the movie is only 79 minutes long, as against the 92 minutes quoted on IMDb. I do not know whether this trimming was undertaken when the English language version was prepared, or whether it is a consequence of damage to the print itself. Possibly it is both.
This might explain the strange editing. There are some very abrupt plot transitions that suggest significant cuts were made for US distribution but, in addition, the transitions between the remaining scenes are sometimes so sharp that the dubbed dialogue seems to spill over from one scene to the next. This gives the film a disconcerting rhythm. The pacing within scenes is often quite ponderous (I am tempted to say 'Germanic'), but the cutting between them is very sharp. The result is that the movie seems both leaden and breathless at the same time. I would be interested to see the original German language version to see if it has this same paradoxical feel.
It is difficult for me to recommend this movie in the form in which I have seen it. It really needs to be viewed in a reasonably good, and reasonably complete, print.
Despite all its deficiencies, I found that Alraune did exert a weird sort of fascination, but I recognise that it will probably only appeal to those people who are particularly curious about the oddities that can occasionally be disinterred from the remoter hinterlands of the movie landscape.
To the more general movie-goer I would say: "there are better things to do with your time."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This version of Alraune is largely unremarkable but for another
excellent performance by the always-radiant Hildegard Knef. Unambitious
cinematography and a slow pace undermine any attempt to build real
Most interesting is the film's theme of eugenics and the dangers of science just a few years after the fall of the Third Reich.
In some ways, though, the Alraune fable is an inverse of Frankenstein: whereas, in Shelley's tale, science is shown to supersede alchemy, here it is the reverse. Alraune's creator has more in common with Rotwang in the sense that there is a blurring of alchemy and science. It is noteworthy that Brigitte Helm starred as the titular character in the early version of Alraune as well as her more famous role as Maria in Metropolis.
This film is recommended to Knef fans and people interested in the Alraune myth. However, as a piece of cinema, it is workmanlike and nothing more.
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