Die Kleine Mutter

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This card turned up in my searching because Mary and her kid compatriots are dressing poor long-suffering kitty in this checked cloth regalia. Poor kit! Why do we love to dress them up so much? In fact, as I have discussed in Pictorama previously, there is something irresistible about it, at least for some of us. Wonder if Dr. Freud ever wrote about that!

This film was originally and more famously known under the original US release title Through the Back Door. Die kleine Mutter appears to be the German language version of this 1921 silent. Interesting that the original title makes reference an issue about class and money, and the German title focuses on a somewhat smarmy aspect of Mary caring for these war orphans she picks up along the way.

I don’t know the whole story, but I just watched the film and this scene does not appear. Therefore the scene was either specific to the German version, or it never made it into the film at all. Most likely the former I think. One does, however, see the kids and I think a tablecloth with this checked pattern fabric – but no kitty outfitting. Too bad! Kit belongs to a wealthy New York family – Mary’s mother who abandoned her as a small child and thinks she is dead. As I mentioned, the kids are some WWI war orphans Mary has gathered up as part of her retinue. The story is a bit complicated, but you are really in it for the visuals and the fun of it.

There is a cat theme running through the film, so I am not surprised that there was another cat scene shot. First in Mary’s childhood Belgium there is a fine looking white cat, short hair, wearing a large bow that gets into considerable trouble – a chase scene, and is responsible for a few plot points. The fluffy Persian has a smaller part in New York. In addition, there is a wonderful, huge Great Dane with her in the beginning of the film and a hot scene with a highly skilled mule who made us laugh out loud.

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Famous shot from Through the Back Door, not in my collection – I wish!

 

Some other highlights include an early appearance for a young Adolphe Menjou. Perhaps most notable though is the gorgeous photography by Charles Rosher. The first half of the film is comprised of one stunning landscape after another – much of my beloved diffusion lens used to create cunning little portraits and visual vignettes. The other highlight, again in the first half, is a series of capers with Mary playing her younger self, getting into all sorts of trouble. Clearly some influence on the Little Rascals, where some of the gags were clearly grabbed up later. The film is available on Youtube at Through the Back Door and I thank this eBay find for introducing me to it. I say there are worse ways for you to spend some time on this chilly Sunday in March!

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A scene grab off of Youtube posted on the internet

 

A Surprising Tiny Felix

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Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: In my collecting experience this little gem is about as weird as it gets. A Facebook friend, Chuck Sycamore, emailed the photo below as a response to an unrelated post, announcing that a friend of his had “found these in his house” and was selling them. Well, wow. Who could resist that?

tiny felix line-up

So, the friend (who lives in Chicago) was contacted and after a bit of to and fro I purchased one – the fellow on the far left end. My size ration dysmorphia (see yesterday’s post Surprise – It’s Felix Again) kicked in and I was stunned to find this guy no more than four inches high! The scooter is fully functional and the Felix is completely articulated. I have never seen these any place else for sale. The small articulated Felix dolls seem to be a size smaller or a size bigger than any version I know. The scooter seems loosely based on this toy I own (mine is a no-name, not Felix variation – I like it, but for some reason the one that is marked Felix sells for about ten times more) – or perhaps that is entirely in my own mind.

tin Felix on scooter

Whether these were somehow one of a kind pieces made in a small quantity, or for some reason have just eluded me in my years of Felix collecting I do not know. There is no maker’s mark and the execution is very thoughtful. If anyone knows more than I do on the subject please weigh in. I am very curious to know more! And a big shout out to Chuck for giving us the heads up. And what kind of whacky house did the friend move into anyway? What else was in that house?

A Picture is Worth Many Words

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This film still is an odd, 5″x7″ size, came as part of a collection we amassed purchasing pieces off an artist photo archive being sold on eBay over a period of weeks, a few years back now. I believe it was a photo morgue assembled by an illustrator. Among the photos we purchased from that group was one I featured on an earlier post, Jes Call Me Bill. There are additional future posts to be had from that wonderful group of photos. There’s no information about this one and we haven’t been able to figure out what film it might have come from.

This photo was on my mind and I could not put my hands on it until recently while cleaning up and going through some photos given to us by a friend of Kim’s. This one had accidentally found it’s way into that pile. In part it is the composition that attracts me. I couldn’t ask for better. The light that is hitting the roof is great and there is just barely enough of it. The whole story is here – he’s pulling her into that thatched house against her will, the guy on the horse is covering him with a gun and looking off in one direction, but meanwhile, no one sees our hero coming out of the doorway. He’ll save her! Not really a beautiful photo so much as a good one. This is the beauty of both silent films and good photography. The picture grabs you – and gives you the whole story.

Try a Skyrocket!

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:This was a surprising find – it is a press photo of the Our Gang kids. It is dated July 28, 1925 and says, The Cleveland News, Reference (something I can’t read) Cleveland, Ohio. Also written on the back it says, Don’t Hitch Your Wagon to a Star! Try a Skyrocket! Here are the diminutive Pathy comedians of Roach’s “Our Gang” celebrating the Fourth in their own fashion. Quite the fire crackers, yes? I have always thought that if I was going to have a still from Our Gang that I would want one of the crazy machines or cars in it and this is pretty dandy, even though it isn’t a still, but a photo made expressly for this purpose. I just wish they could have gotten Pete up there too! The photo is a collage montage of images and the “flames” shooting out the back and the lines indicating speed seem to have actually been scratched onto the negative. Very resourceful.

Like many people, I guess, some of my earliest television memories is a wonderful, never-ending unspooling of Our Gang and Little Rascal shorts on weekend afternoons. These films informed our childhoods and convinced us that we should have a neighborhood gang of kids and dogs, and be capable of building glorious fire engine go-carts, our own taxi cabs, other cars, and club houses – and sit around eating huge cream puff donuts the like of which you never see in real life. (Having said that, I actually finally had a cream puff donut of the kind I am describing the other day – it was on special at Le Pain Quotidien and I split it with a friend – absolutely glorious. I now understand why they were always longing for them in the shorts.) It was years before it occurred to me that those wonderful go-carts and club houses were built by talented adults with virtually endless resources – not a superior kind of extinct child from an earlier generation. It was probably good to have the bar set high however.

Although I watched them all with impunity, it was the earliest generation of them that I liked best. (However, I did not catch up with the silent ones until adulthood so I am thinking of the first generation of sound ones.) I loved this image when I saw it and it set me thinking about a short where they do indeed build a rocket and take off around the neighborhood. Surely there was one like that, wasn’t there?

Quick

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: As those of you who have encountered me on Facebook know well, Lilian Harvey (German film actress best known for her early musical films) is one of my obsessions. I love the pre-war, early sound musicals she starred in, am amazed at how much faster the Germans developed in the sound era. Her films are not easy to see in English translation, although they are all there for the most part. Her popularity in Germany never fully diminished and many of her movies are available, tantalizingly widely available in German. Kim and I were lucky to see a number of her films, and others from the period, during a satisfyingly long festival at the Museum of Modern Art a few years ago. It played over the course of several months and we devoted as much free time as we could to seeing as many as possible – we were never disappointed. (The excellent catalogue, Weimar Cinema 1919-1933 is still available on Amazon.)

The other great thing about Lilian Harvey – and I will just touch on this briefly because there are a number of future posts to be done about it – is that she seemed to have a deep personal affection for wonderful stuffed animals, black cats and Felix in particular! Unlike many of the other photos I have shown of Felix and actresses (such as Mistinguett – Felix Goes to the Dogs and Felix Makes the Picture Better) you get the decided feeling that you are seeing Lilian among her very own stuffed animals. Here is another photo from the collection of Tom Conroy which he sent to us a while back. I’ve included details of Felix and Bonzo from the photo.

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During the Weimar Cinema festival we also saw a truly outstanding film (sans Lilian) called Abschied and it was directed by Robert Siodmak. It is the first sound film made by UFA and the mix of music and sound in it is fascinating and really thoughtfully and beautifully done. (In fact, Kim dubbed it one of the best films he has ever seen.) It is about life in a boarding house and one of the characters is a piano player and it is his playing that informs much of the sound track of the film. Leaving Germany, Siodmak finds his way to the United States, as does Harvey briefly, although he sticks and she does not. He goes onto make films such as Phantom Lady and The Spiral Staircase.

Shown in the photo above, hot off of eBay, we see them together, on the set of a film called Quick. In addition to the reproduction and credit information (it is a UFA film) it merely reads as follows: dans le nouveau film Ufaton “Quick” dans la production Erich Pommer Mise en scene par R. Siedmak. Direction de la production: M. Pfeiffer Supervise par Andre Daven. Below is a reproduction of the poster and a brief description of the film. I see it with changeable English titles here: Germanwarfilms.com (a site that now seems to go by the more politically correct name rarefilmsandmore.com) with a tiny snippet, in German, that you can view. I will report back after I acquire it!

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Quick – 1932 Lilian Harvey plays Eva, a young girl taking some time in a health spa and spending her evenings in the town’s vaudeville theatre enamoured by a heavily made-up clown called Quick. Quick takes a shine to her and tries to woo her without make-up and masquerading as the theatre’s manager. Unable to resolve her feelings for Quick and the theatre manager, Eva is angered when she finally learns that they are one and the same.

Felix and His Early TV Turn

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today I share a composite of composition Felix statues. One is a variation on a common shot of Felix on his turn table famously posing for the tv camera to focus on. This photo comes to me courtesy of the very generous Tom Conroy. Thank you again Tom! (You may remember that Tom recently supplied the photo for my post Felix and Betty Boop Affair.)

The back of this photo describes this as the scanning-disk pickup of equipment of NBC’s experimental TV station W2XBS in New York in 1930. The internet weighs in with several sites identifying that this first broadcast, with Felix, occurred in 1928. In addition, one site states that Felix was used ongoing, nightly, to focus the cameras and as a sort of test pattern. I especially like this version – a longer shot than you usually see. It is fun to see all the equipment too. Imagine – most of that probably fits on a computer chip of one kind or another today – one that fits in your phone.

As one site devoted to the history of Felix points out – Felix was willing to work cheap and was extremely patient under the bright, hot lights which he was required to remain under as part of this assignment. Needless to say, he was much more cheerful and welcome than most other test patterns. (Late night test patterns! Television stations that went off the air late at night – and the little white dot that remained after you turned the tv off, until it faded away. Ah, childhood.)

The composition Felix in the tv photo is the same ubiquitous one in the Christmas photo I just purchased. (Kim would like to go on the record as not caring for this photo. It evidently does not live up to his standards.) It is a snap shot, nothing on the back and no date – it measures about 3.5″ x 4.5″. This jolly little homey scene of a Christmas long past features the very same standard issue Felix. Hard to say if he was a gift or part of the decorations. I like the small but heavily decorated and be-tinseled table-tree, familiar to those of us who live in apartments. Failing a fireplace the stockings are placed carefully over a chair and tempting packages are stacked up under around Felix and an elephant toy beside him.

I don’t own one of these composition Felix statues, although I wouldn’t mind scooping one up if the right opportunity came along. I always imagined that they were prizes at fairs, although it seems like you must have been able to purchase them as well. To my, admittedly limited, knowledge they seem to have remained consistent in size and appearance over a long period of several decades – a good design lasts.

Felix Plays a Prime Prop

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This gem comes to me courtesy of my terrific husband, as a birthday gift. We were both very entertained by the photo – as well as the appearance of Felix and friends in it.  Sadly, there is no identification – someone has written German film? on the back in pencil. Otherwise, just the reprint credit information from something called, Culver Services.

Kim suspects that the actor is Dwight Frye. This gave way to another iPad internet search in bed one night and a lively discussion of whether or not we could figure out what movie this might be from his bio. I have failed to tie this out – the woman is not familiar to either of us and I invited anyone who knows about it to speak up. We are curious! Here are a few photos of Dwight from what must be more or less the same time. As you can see, the photo is identified as being from Universal, which is rubbed over in red for some reason.

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Meanwhile, the babe, surrounded by rather excellent stuffed toys, is letting all hang out in would could be a pre-Code or very European way. Dwight looks unconcerned by her state of undress and urges her to look at these plans or whatever those sheets of paper are. The maid just wishes to get on with serving tea it would seem.

Oh, but let’s talk about the toys! There is the glorious big Felix which is what caught my attention to begin with – oh, lucky woman! He’s a pip! Behind her head is a black cat pillow I would acquire instantly given half the chance. Then there are two of these somewhat mysterious stuffed dogs. As far as I can tell they are made by Dean’s Rag Co. of Britain (for some of my posts of praise for these fine toy makers check out my post Pluto) and here is an example of a similar dog that was recently for sale on eBay – didn’t sell if you are interested!

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And then below, my own acquisition of a similar odd duck dog in Paris a few years ago. He does not have a maker mark however. I do not know if the one above does or not.

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Felix is also probably a Dean’s Rag or perhaps a Chad Valley version. I can’t help but wonder where they all came from and who had the excellent eye for set design. Too much to hope that they were part of the plot – if we cannot figure out what film it is I will probably never know for sure either way!