Kino has put out three DVDs under the title "Gay-themed Films of the
Silent Era." The most salaciously titled film is the group,
Sex in Chains, was directed and stars William Dieterle. Dieterle
had played in German films for years, even having a role in Murnau's Faust,
and drifted into directing. This was the fourth film that he directed
and while not a classic, it does have some strong moments and does not
flinch from its subject.
Franz (Dieterle) is an out of work engineer, who just can't seem to
find a job. His young wife Helene (Mary Johnson) manages to land
a job as a cigarette girl in a nightclub to help them out financially until
Franz can get back on his feet. While working one night, a patron
starts to harass Helene. When Franz sees what's happening he
tells the man to leave his wife alone and a fight breaks out. Franz
punches the man who is knocked down and strikes his head on a concrete
step, a wound that eventually kills him. Franz is arrested and sentenced
to three years in jail.
While in jail, Franz can not stand the lack of sexual relations with
his wife. The otherwise pleasantly depicted prison is a hell for
him, and it nearly drives him mad. Only the arms of an attractive
cell mate allows Franz to retain his sanity. Little does he
know, but Helene has also found comfort while her husband is imprisoned,
in the form of her employer who has taken an interest in her well being.
I'm not sure that this film would be remembered today if not for the
subject matter. It plays like a typical silent melodrama, with the
characters displaying exaggerated emotions and feelings. While I'll
admit that an extended period of time without sex wouldn't be pleasant,
I can't see people going crazy or killing themselves over it as happens
in this film. Franz reaction to the depravations while in prison
are almost comical today.
The actors do give good performances though, with the overacting being
kept to a minimum. Dieterle does a convincing job as Franz, and also
does an admirable job directing. While the film isn't prefect, there
are some very good sections to it. The reeling camera and quick cuts
when Franz is near madness from lack of sex was very effective. As
where the superimpositions used to show what characters were thinking.
The restoration was built off of a censored 1930 print from the Gosfilmoford
collection in Russia along with a French print of the film that contained
the censored scenes. The Russian parts of the film look very good,
though not spectacular. There are still some spots and scratches
on the image, but the detail is fair, and so is the contrast. The
French print is noticeably inferior, with more grain, a softer picture
and much less contrast. This print was only used for a few scenes
though and overall the DVD looks fine.
The original piano score by Pasquale Perris while technically proficient,
was uninspiring. There wasn't a lot of effort to have the music being
played match the mood on the screen. A slow and steady piece played
during the scene in a nightclub where a jazz band was playing, and
during the fight that lands Franz in jail the music lacked excitement and
tension. A song also gets cut off at the end of act II.
This film in presented with the oridinal German intertitles with optional
English subtitles. The intertitles presented during the French sections
of the film are in a different typeface which is very evident.
There are no extras on this DVD.
While this film would be of interest to individuals studying the depiction
of homosexuality in early cinema, I don't think it has a much wider appeal.
The script was too heavily laden with melodrama to be interesting to today's
audiences and while the direction is good, it doesn't make up for the sometimes
plodding plot. This would be a good rental.