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Der Kampf mit dem Drachen oder: Die Tragödie des Untermieters (1930)

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Hedwig Wangel ...
Der 'Drache'
...
Der 'Untermieter'
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Comedy | Short

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13 August 1930 (Germany)  »

Also Known As:

Die Tragödie des Untermieters  »

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1.33 : 1
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Wind chimes in the toilet
17 December 2004 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

This short film's title would translate in English as 'The Ordeal of the Dragon; or, The Tragedy of the Underboarders'. Actually, there's no such word as 'Underboarders', but it's a valid concept. In the days when boarding-houses were commonplace, there was always a hierarchy among the boarders in a rooming house. Many such establishments had a 'star boarder' who was favoured by the landlady: a boarder who received preferential treatment and superior accommodations. (Usually, this boarder had more income than the other tenants, and paid his rent promptly.) The less prestigious boarders were usually the transient ones, who had less income, who were not always timely with the rent, and who consequently received less hospitable treatment from the landlady. A good example of this is in the movie 'Yankee Doodle Dandy'. During the early scenes, when the Cohan family are still struggling in vaudeville, we see them in a theatrical rooming-house where they are behind on the rent. The landlady instructs the maid to keep the Cohans seated at the far end of the dining table, where they will only be served noodles and syrup while the other boarders get a better meal.

'The Ordeal of the Dragon' is a short comedy, filmed in a slightly expressionist manner: not nearly so exaggerated as 'The Cabinet of Dr Caligari', but closer to the style of King Vidor's 'The Fountainhead' or the original 'Invaders from Mars'. The impressive camera set-ups intentionally give a slight overemphasis to individual elements in the frame, heightening the humour.

CONTAINS SPOILERS: Felix Bressart plays a meek clerk who lives in an upstairs room of a boarding-house ruled by a termagant landlady. His room is furnished, but the furniture is kept under dustcovers which he is forbidden to remove. The entire house is equipped with wind chimes, so that the landlady downstairs can constantly monitor his movements. There are even wind chimes above the toilet! Smoking is forbidden, so Felix the underboarder keeps a pipe and a tobacco pouch hidden (like the booze in 'The Lost Weekend'), and he smokes on the sly, carefully blowing the smoke out the window. The landlady finds him out anyway, and she charges him the price of having the curtains cleaned. Eventually, the boarder is goaded past the breaking point. He kills his landlady, and is arrested for her murder. The verdict is: Not guilty. 'We have all lived in that dragon's house,' says the judge.

It's not clear whether the judge's line is literal or figurative. Does he mean that everyone in this courtroom has boarded with that landlady, or does he mean that all of humanity have lived in extreme situations where homicide is justifiable? The title's use of the plural ('underboarders') seems to favour the latter explanation. Still, considering the situation in Germany at the time when this film was made, several symbolic interpretations are possible.

Felix Bressart was one of the many European film figures (most of them Jewish) who fled Nazism and ended up in Hollywood. The dragon-tempered landlady in this brief and amusing film is played by Hedwig Wangel, a formidable actress of unattractive mien, who joined the Nazi party and continued to make films in Germany during the Reich. Fortunately, this particular dragon was slain. I'll rate 'Ordeal of the Dragon' 7 out of 10 for its excellent direction and several amusing camera set-ups.


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