From the Chicago Reader (April 1, 1995). — J.R.
My favorite Douglas Sirk film — made in Germany in 1936, when he was still known as Detlef Sierck — is a dazzlingly cinematic, fast-moving melodrama built around classical music; it’s alternately perverse, exalted, and delirious. Shuttling back and forth between New York and Berlin with an ease that suggests those cities were in closer proximity to each other in the 30s than they are today, the opening sequences present a destitute widow (Maria von Tasnady) recovering her will to live by listening to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on the radio, broadcast live from Germany, where the conductor (Willy Birgel) is coincidentally in the process of adopting her little boy. When she returns to Berlin she goes to work as the boy’s nanny, concealing the fact that she’s his mother, while the conductor’s less musically inclined wife (Lil Dagover) tries to break free from an astrologer-blackmailer who’s threatening to expose her adultery with him. There’s also a creepy and seemingly malevolent maid, a climactic trial, and several sequences involving music and duplicity that produce some astonishing visual candenzas and editing rhyme effects. (This is the film that inspired Sirk to note that camera angles are a director’s thoughts and lighting is his philosophy.) The movie was an enormous success in Germany when it came out, and it isn’t hard to understand why; it’s the finest Nazi-era fiction feature I’ve seen. (JR)