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John M. Stahl
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A stranger dressed in black visits the shop of eyeglass maker Hans Schmidt. He asks Schmidt to make a lens that shows only beauty to anyone who uses it. Before he can make the lens, he must search for the answer his grandson's question, "What is beauty?" A priest at a monastery gives him a holy book and suggests that if he reads the book, he will find the answer. After reading the book, he makes the lens. The country's grand duke visits Schmidt's shop with his wife. They try the lens and are so pleased, they take it back to their castle. The stranger visits Schmidt again and requests that he now make a lens that shows the truth, because not everything is beautiful. The priest at the monastery says Schmidt will find truth in the same holy book. After he makes the lens, the grand duke and his wife return to try it out. Written by
David Glagovsky <email@example.com>
Christian Rub's make-up and playing of Hans Schmidt in this film may have served as a model for Disney's depiction of Geppetto in PINOCCHIO. Rub also dubbed the character's voice in the 1940 animated feature. See more »
"The Spectacle Maker" is one of only three films I'm aware of that were based on the work of Irish-born writer Frank Harris. Set in Edwardian England, his original story "The Magic Glasses" from his short story collection "Unpath'd Waters" is a metaphorical musing on the nature of aesthetics written for adults. As translated by John Farrow in 1934, it appears to be an attempt at child's parable or fairy tale on the nature of beauty, truth, good, and evil set in 17th Century Germany replete with gorgeous three-strip Glorious Technicolor and music.
Why did Farrow choose to adapt what was clearly an adult story in that fashion? First, Harris' greatest legacy rests with his notorious and sexually explicit memoir, "My Life and Loves." When Farrow adapted "The Magic Glasses" in 1934, memories of Harris' salacious autobiography were still fresh in the public mind (he died in 1931), and the director needed a setting that would distance him from the libidinous eroticism of "My Life and Loves."
Harris has often been accused of engaging in a literary form of "Munchausen Syndrome." Baron Munchausen is synonymous with tall tales, and there are those who accuse Harris of compulsively fabricating material to such an extent that he ultimately believed them to be true. For example, Harris emigrated to the United States and mentions having witnessed the Chicago Fire although records prove he could not have been there at the time (October 1871). Perhaps by setting this story in 17th Century Germany, Farrow was referencing an inside joke as well as utilizing a beautiful standing set on the MGM lot, one that would be subsequently redressed for "A Tale of Two Cities," "Marie Antoinette," and "The Three Musketeers."
A subsequent film based on Harris' work is the 1958 Jack Lemmon Western "Cowboy," predicated on early parts of "My Life and Loves" which were ultimately extracted from the memoir and published separately as "My Reminisces as a Cowboy."
It's unfortunate that because of "My Life and Loves" infamous notoriety, many of Harris' other works have been largely ignored, including two books on Shakespeare and biographies on two of Harris' friends, fellow Irishmen Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw although his Wilde biography served as the basis for a 1960 film with Robert Morley about the author's sensational libel trial. The literary works of these three authors have been treated well by Hollywood, so perhaps it's not too late to hope that more of Harris' prodigious writing output will find its way to the screen someday.
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