A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Diary of a Lost Girl (G.W. Pabst, 1929)

Diary of a Lost Girl feels like a falling-off from the standard set by Pabst's first film with Louise Brooks, Pandora's Box (1929), in large part because its source, a 1905 novel by Margarete Böhme, was less distinguished than the one for the previous film: Frank Wedekind's two Lulu plays, which inspired not only Pabst's film but also Alban Berg's 1937 opera, Lulu. The print shown on TCM is also less successfully restored than that of Pandora's Box, owing to difficulties with censors that resulted in some major cuts that sometimes leave the narrative a bit hard to follow. Brooks plays Thymian Henning, the daughter of a well-to-do pharmacist (Josef Rovensky). She is raped and impregnated by her father's assistant, Meinert (Fritz Rasp). When she gives birth, her baby is taken away and she is expelled from her father's home, with the connivance of the housekeeper, Meta (Franziska Kinz), who later marries Thymian's father. She escapes from the oppressive reformatory to which she is sent and winds up in a high-class brothel. When her father dies, she expects an inheritance and marries her friend Count Orloff (André Roanne), who has been disinherited by his own father (Arnold Korff). But when he receives the money she discovers that Meta and her two children have been left penniless. Rather than allow her young half-sister to suffer the fate she has experienced, she gives away her fortune to Meta. Learning of this, Count Orloff leaps to his death from an open window, but his father takes Thymian in, allowing her not only to continue to prosper but also to take revenge on the reformatory personnel who had mistreated her. The elder Count Orloff then observes, "A little more love and no one would be lost in this world." That a story so improbable and sententious should work at all is a tribute to Pabst's willingness to take it seriously and to marshal a cast that performs it with apparent conviction. Brooks, however, feels miscast, especially after her triumph in Pandora's Box: It's difficult to accept the broad-shouldered, strong-backed Brooks as a 15-year-old, which she presumably is at the film's beginning when she attends her confirmation, and the performance feels one-note after the impressive range she achieved in the first film. It was not a critical or commercial success, owing in part to the arrival of sound, which made it feel obsolete, and it didn't receive an American commercial release.