Starring Emil Jannings and Lya de Putti
The original version and the Australian release of 1927
Varieté / Variety / Vaudeville is a silent German film directed by E.A. Dupont and starring Emil Jannings and Lya de Putti. Originally premiering in Berlin at the end of November 1925, it was a UFA production noted for innovative camera work by Karl Freund (Metropolis, Dracula, The Mummy) and Carl Hoffmann (Nibelungen, Faust), with a risque, melodramatic storyline.
Following its premiere in Germany, Variety was subject to censorship and re-editing for international release, cutting its original 104 minutes down by 25 minutes or more in some instances. The version as released in the United States during 1926 was therefore very different to Dupont's original cut.
Variety is now little known outside of Germany, though it holds a well-deserved reputation with film buffs as one of the classics of the 1920s. Its re-release is long overdue.
Plot (Original German release)
Two inmates are on their break in the jail courtyard when one of them, Boss (Emil Jannings), is called to the director's office. Boss' wife (Maly Delschaft) has appealed his case, asking for a pardon. Sentenced for murder, Boss has been in prison for ten years, but he has never revealed the motives of his crime. Finally, he explains what happened back then. He used to be a famous trapeze artist, but after a horrible accident he can no longer perform. His will broken, he scrapes through life as the owner of a show booth in Hamburg's St. Pauli district. One day, a sailor brings a beautiful young dancer to his booth. Boss falls in love with the sultry Berta-Marie (Lya de Putti) and leaves his wife and child for her. Together, they get jobs with another circus performer and enjoy great success as a trio. But when Boss finds out that Berta-Marie is betraying him with their partner (Artinelli - Warwick Ward), he kills his rival and reports himself to the police. After ten years, Boss is released.
Most modern release copies of the film dating from the 1980s are from the US release version. They omit the original wife from the plot and present Boss and Bertha as a married couple, though it is clear from the review by Morduant Hall at the time of the original US release in 1926 (reproduced below), that he saw a largely uncut print. The film was censored and restructured for general release in that country and outside of Germany, in a similar, though perhaps less drastic manner to Fritz Lang's Metropolis of 1927. the degree to which German and other foreign films of the 1920s were re-edited and transformed upon their arrival in the US was extraordinary. It is only in recent years, with the advent of detailed research by German film archivists, that many of these films are being reconstructed and re-released to international audiences, now able for the first time to see the movies are originally intended. Variety awaits such a release.
Review - Variety (1925)
THE SCREEN; A German Masterpiece. By MORDUANT HALL. New York Times, June 28, 1926The strongest and most inspiring drama that has ever been told by the evanescent shadows is at the Rialto. It is a German film known as "Variety" and was produced by the Ufa concern in Berlin about a year ago under the direction of E. A. Dupont. In this picture there is a marvelous wealth of detail; the lighting effects and camera work cause one to reflect that occasionally the screen may be connected with art. While there may be some speculation concerning the appeal of this striking piece of work, because use of the tragic climax of the actual story, there is no doubt regarding its merit. Scene after scene unlocks a flood of thoughts, and although the nature of the principal characters is far from pleasing; the glimpses one obtains are so true to life that they are not repellent. Emil Jannings, who is best remembered for his acting in "The Last Laugh" and "Passion," fills the principal rôle. He is theatric at times, but his performance is a masterly one. He is not alone in this feature, and it may be a matter of opinion as to whether Lya de Putti and Warwick Ward, an English actor, are not even better than Mr. Jannings in their portrayals. Certainly Jannings has the least conventional rôle and more to tell by his expressions. However, Miss de Putti and Mr. Ward give an extraordinarily brilliant account of themselves and they rise to the occasion in episodes that are by no means easy to handle. Benjamin Christianson's picture, "The Devil's Circus," was much the same sort of story, but where that production missed the mark "Variety" supplies the interest and booms where the Hollywood photodrama spluttered. It is the story of the mésalliances in the lives of three trapeze performers, the locale being Berlin. The first scenes depict a convict, who hitherto had been unwilling to disclose the reason for the murder he had committed, suddenly unfolding the tale to the warden of the prison. He is impelled to do so by the mention of his wife, whom he had deserted for a girl with a comely face. This girl at first enjoys the life with the man, who is much older than she, but when a handsome English trapeze performer appears she falls in love with him. It is through a sketch on a marble top table in a café poking fun at him that the older man discovers the duplicity of the girl. He meditates how he will revenge himself on the Englishman. His first thought is to let the Englishman drop when he is doing his usual triple somersault, but he eventually decides that he will end the Britsh performer's life with a knife. The chronicle is pictured as the convict tells it. The picture is unfolded with unusual care, points being made when new characters are introduced. The director shows the Boss, as the hefty older man is called, a domesticated individual, who had given up his trapeze work because he had broken both legs. Then the Girl is introduced, and the Boss sways in his attentions to his baby and his wife to the arched eyebrows and brown eyes of the Girl. He finds admiration for youth and beauty too strong and soon he decamps with the Girl, going back to his old vocation, working in a carnival.
VARIETY starring Emil Jannings
MOTION PICTURE MAGAZINE September, 1926
Emil Jannings again demonstrates that he is supreme as a pantomimist in this simple, but powerfully dramatic triangle - which is enacted against the background of a Berlin music hall. As in "The Last Laugh," he submerges his personality so that one sees beyond the environment of the character portrayed - and discovers the soul of the man. The same invisible forces which guide a man's conduct take him in charge and wreck him. Boisterous, playful, cunning, proud, a big mastiff, sure of himself and his strength - he plays upon his emotions and becomes so much animated stuffing in the hands of the wily temptress - whose passion is men.
The story builds in typical Teutonic fashion -marching inexorably to its predestined tragic climax. The director hasn't missed a single point in fashioning the story as an impressive study of realism and his figure stalk life-like across the screen. The brutish cavalier of the carnival renounces his marital vows. A woman, soft and sensuous, with big, limpid eyes comes into his life. She is the Eve who destroys his Eden. The slattern he calls his wife bows down with grief and humiliation. And her man runs away with his new mistress - runs away to reap the age-old insults of his careless friends who have knowledge of his degradation. There is your triangle - shot with varied shadings of true character building. It is told in the flash-back style with Jannings facing the Court as the bitter memories unfold.
The Australian Release 1927
Variety was released in Australia during July - September 1927 by Cinema Art Films, the local distributor for the German production company UFA. The version exhibited in Australia was most likely an official UFA international release print, as was the case with the version of Metropolis seen in Australia and New Zealand the following year. As the latter was based on the edited UK version, it is also possible the Variety seen in Australian and New Zealand was similarly cut, though a study of contemporary reveiws will be required in order to clarify this.
Variety premiered at the Picadilly Theatre, Sydney on Saturday 2 July 1927. It ran there to packed houses for 5 weeks, closing on Friday, 5 August. From there it traveled to Melbourne, where it opened early in September. The following advertisement appeared in the Melbourne newspaper The Argus on Tuesday, 6 September 1927:
The World's Greatest Dramatic Actor
A Super-Thrilling, Ultra-Powerful,
This Altogether Wonderful Programme Commences
A Limited Season at the
AUDITORIUM NEXT SATURDAY. AUDITORIUM NEXT SATURDAY.
'Box-plans Now Open at Allan's.
Variety shared the program with the Harold Lloyd 'side-splitting comedy' Hot Water. As noted in the promotional material, Emil Jannings was already recognised as an outstanding actor and the star of the film.
The poster shown to the right is an original Australian long daybill from the 1927 release of Variety. The torn paper on the top of the poster refers to 'The Capitol / Saturday'. It is a two-colour lithograph, 15 x 40 inches in size and printed on a cream weave paper. The logo of Cinema Art Films is seen in the bottom right corner. The line drawing graphic in the lower section of the poster is trypical of cinema promitional art produced in Australia around this time. Such line drawings featured in local newspaper advertisements and, in this case, within the Australian poster. Some larger posters were most likely also used for the Australian campaign, based on the original country of origin (German) posters as designated for the international market or using artwork from the American and British releases. An example of this is seen in the release by Cinema Art Films during 1928 of Fritz Lang's Metropolis - some of the Australian newspaper advertisements for that film feature the international release lithographic poster of the Metropolis cityscape, though local line drawings also featured.
Tom Gunning, 'The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, Its Spectator, and the Avante-Garde', in T. Elsaesser (ed), Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative, BFI, London, 1990, 56-62.
Frances Guerin, 'Dazzled by the Light: Technological Entertainment and its Social Impact in Varieté', Cinema Journal, 42(4), Summer 2003, 98-115.
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