MORAL (DE 1928)
When a travelling troupe threatens to unleash a saucy Berlin revue on the provincial town of Emilsburg, the local morality society, a band of sanctimonious middle-aged men, stages a protest. Meanwhile, the reigning monarch is concerned that his son and heir is not living his life to the full. Her engagement at the local theatre brought to a premature end as a result of the morality society’s interference, the revue’s star attraction, Ninon d’Hauteville, takes a job as piano teacher to the young prince. It doesn’t take long for the morality society’s members to get wind of this. While on the outside they appear to be concerned with running the immoral woman out of their town, behind closed doors they rank among the piano teacher’s most ardent pupils. However, Ninon, out to right the wrong done against her, secretly keeps a “diary” of their visits, recording each encounter on film with a hidden camera.
Following their split from Ufa in 1927, Richter and Wolff produced this entertaining and remarkably pertinent comedy for the recently formed Matador distribution company, a subsidiary of Carl Laemmle’s Universal Pictures Corporation. Moral is part of a series of otherwise unrelated films released between 1926 and 1930 that invoke the spirit of Richter and Wolff’s theatrical past. As in Die schönsten Beine von Berlin (Saucy Suzanne, 1926-27), Wolff incorporated original footage from the Haller Revue, Berlin’s equivalent of the Ziegfeld Follies. Among the popular performers displaying their talents in scenes from the 1927-28 show Wann und Wo (When and Where) are the “often copied, never equalled” Lawrence Tiller Girls, famous for their vigorously athletic co-ordinated kick-lines. Hermann Haller, the mastermind behind the revues, had been director of the Theater am Nollendorfplatz in Berlin when Richter, then still a young stage actress, was an ensemble player there. Prior to that, Haller ran the Carl-Schultze-Theater in Hamburg, where he gave the young dentist Willi Wolff his start as a playwright and lyricist. Haller and Wolff maintained their professional relationship after Wolff switched from theatre to film, with Wolff supplying lyrics to all of Haller’s revues between 1922 and 1928.
Moral is loosely based on the hit play of the same name by Bavarian author Ludwig Thoma, marking the first screen adaptation of one of his works. The play’s exposure of double standards within ostensibly decent walks of society found favour among audiences upon its premiere in Berlin on 20 November 1908, and it quickly became a classic. Richter herself had performed in a short run of the play in March 1909, during her first engagement as an ensemble player at the Stadttheater (Municipal Theatre) in Brno.
The screenplay – credited to Wolff and prolific writer Bobby E. Lüthge as well as Wolff’s regular collaborator Robert Liebmann, later to become Ufa’s chief dramatic advisor – retains only the characters and basic plot of Thoma’s original play. Many of its more explicit elements have been watered down and substituted with metaphors and suggestive imagery. Thus, Ninon d’Hauteville, a high-class prostitute in the play, is here reimagined as a showgirl. The translation of Ninon’s “diary” from a book to a reel of celluloid, meanwhile, allows for one of the film’s most memorable images. One of Ninon’s “clients”, desperate to destroy the incriminating film, tears it up and flushes it piece-by-piece down a pub toilet – a humorous, yet also painful, reminder of the fate suffered by so many silent films, including no less than two-thirds of Ellen Richter’s own œuvre. – Oliver Hanley
Moral is one of only two cases where the original negative of an Ellen Richter film is known to survive, the other being the 1925 murder mystery Schatten der Weltstadt (GB: Life’s Shadows). The negative has not survived intact; one and a half reels are missing completely. In 2019, the Bundesarchiv scanned the surviving reels at 4K resolution, providing the starting point for the new restoration carried out by the DFF – Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum and the Filmoteca Valenciana. The majority of the missing footage could be recovered from a vintage first-generation Spanish release print from the Filmoteca’s collection. Some shots and scenes remain lost, however. Missing title cards have been reconstructed in collaboration with the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin, with the help of a list contained in the censorship file held at the National Archives of the Czech Republic and additional written sources. Scanning, restoration, and grading were carried out by ARRI Media at its facilities in Munich and Berlin.
MORAL (DE 1928)
regia/dir: Willi Wolff.
scen: Willi Wolff, Robert Liebmann, Bobby E. Lüthge, dalla commedia di/based on the play by Ludwig Thoma (1908).
photog: Carl Drews.
scg/des: Ernst Stern.
cast: Ellen Richter (Therese Hochstetter, nota come/known as Ninon d’Hauteville), Jakob Tiedtke (Beermann, redditiere/a rentier), Ralph Arthur Roberts (Prof. Otto Wasner), Fritz Greiner (consigliere/councillor Hauser), Julius Falkenstein (Emil XXXVII, principe di/Prince of Gerolstein), Harry Halm (principe ereditario/Crown Prince), Ferdinand von Alten (Von Schmettau, ciambellano reale/the royal chamberlain), Paul Graetz (Reisacher, impiegato di polizia/a police clerk), Albert Paulig (Ströbel, assessore/an assessor), Hilde Jennings (Effie, figlia di Beermann/Beermann’s daughter), Ernst Hofmann (Dobler, artista/an artist), Paul Morgan, Hugo Döblin, Karl Harbacher, Julius E. Herrmann, Fritz Beckmann (membri della società per la morale/members of the morality society), Marcella Rahna, June and John Roper, Thelma de Lorez, Lawrence Tiller’s Original Empire Girls.
prod: Ellen Richter, Willi Wolff, Ellen Richter-Film GmbH, Berlin.
dist: Matador-Film-Verleih GmbH, Berlin.
v.c./censor date: 11.01.1928.
première: 20.01.1928, Berlin (U.T. Kurfürstendamm).
copia/copy: DCP, 81′ (orig. 2216 m.); did./titles: GER, subt. ENG.
fonte/source: DFF – Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum, Frankfurt/Wiesbaden.
Digitalizzazione e restauro effettuati con il sostegno della delegazione del governo federale per la cultura e i media, BKM – Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien; dei Länder tedeschi e dell’agenzia tedesca per la promozione cinematografica, FFA – Filmförderungsanstalt. / Digitization and restoration funded by BKM – Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien (Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media), the German federal states (Länder), and the FFA – Filmförderungsanstalt (Federal Film Board), within the framework of Förderprogramm Filmerbe.