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Edwin E. Reed
Oyster-king Quaker cannot be impressed anymore. He is so rich that he even has a special butler holding his cigar while he is smoking. The only thing Quaker would be impressed by is if his daughter Ossi were to marry a real prince. He makes an offer to the poor prince Nucki, who sends his friend Josef to get a clear idea of the woman.Written by
THE OYSTER PRINCESS (1919), directed by Ernst Lubitsch, is a zany absurdist comedy revolving around Ossi (Ossi Oswalda) a spoiled America heiress, and her quest to marry a prince. Her father (Victor Janson), an oyster-shipping magnate, hires a matchmaker to assist. He finds a destitute prince (Harry Liedtke) who sends his friend Josef (Julius Falkenstein) to take a look at Ossi before he commits, but complications ensue when Josef takes a liking to her
The story is pure, over-the-top absurdist satire of the idle rich. Anyone who thinks Germans have no sense of humor needs to see this movie! It is described appropriately as "A Grotesque Comedy", so exaggeration is the order of the day. Just about everything is, in modern parlance, turned up to 11 here, to skewer the entitled, indulgent lifestyle of the idle rich heiress and her father. There are literally armies of hundreds of servants to attend to Ossi's every need, particularly during the hilarious sequence where her maids dress and bathe her while Josef waits anxiously. Other highlights include the opening scene, where her father Mr Quaker dictates to a room full of secretaries while servants wait on him, the scene where Ossi destroys her room, the foxtrot scene, and a boxing match between girls that is played for laughs.
The performances couldn't be better. Ossi Oswalda shows great comic talent and loads of charm as the spoiled heiress. She takes a character that would usually be quite irritating and actually makes her empathetic and funny. Julius Falkenstein is also quite funny and effective as Josef, particularly during the banquet scenes. Victor Janson is also very good as the indulgent father, and he contributes some very amusing facial expressions. Everyone plays this just right – broad enough to show that they understand the ridiculousness of the scenario, but not enough to be detracting.
This movie is also very well shot. There is some panning and tracking, but for the most part visual interest is maintained through mise-en- scene (composition within scenes). Cinematographer Theodor Sparkuhl captures the large, opulent palace and the armies of servants in an inspired way. The camera work and editing really shine during the scene where Josef waits for Ossi – you see the mass of maids attending to Ossi as kind of an industrial assembly line, while Josef skips and jumps over the geometric patterns on the floor! The editing back and forth and the quality of the shots is really effective and funny here. The foxtrot scene is also a visual highlight, where the camera glides over the dancers and architecture. The banquet is another marvel, with the servants positioned and moving in a precise, military fashion.
Overall, THE OYSTER PRINCESS is a great success of absurdist satire, with fine comic performances (especially by Ossi Oswalda), a funny scenario, and inventive cinematography. Definitely worth checking out! SCORE: 8/10
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