The Oyster Princess

Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Year: 1919
Rating: 7.5
Country: Germany

World War I was over when Lubitsch directed this film. At the end of the war he had been in a play that ended with the entire cast singing Germany Wins! Germany Wins! The next day they had to change the ending as Germany sued for peace and the Weimar era began when the Kaiser soon abdicated. There was enormous dislocation within the country, poverty, starvation, unemployment, political chaos and a rapid rise in anti-Semitism. Lubitsch was Jewish. But the film industry prospered because of their ability to sell their films overseas in foreign currencies while their own currency collapsed.

So perhaps similarly to American directors producing comedies about the rich during the Great Depression, Lubitsch directs this very amusing satire about the incredibly wealthy Oyster King (Victor Jansen). His house is so large that you need a map to find your way around, he has a legion of secretaries taking down his every word, innumerable hot and cold running servants, four black servants in livery coats who hold his one-foot cigars, wipe his mouth and feed him, a battalion of masseuses to pamper and servants who copy the British rank musket formation when serving dinner. He also has a spoiled daughter who wants to marry a prince immediately and the Oyster King promises to buy her one.

The daughter Oss is played by Ossi Oswalda who was nicknamed the German Mary Pickford at the time. She had a roomful of teeth, untamed hair and the energy of five year-old on a sugar high. Lubitsch used her in a number of his comedies though he was to use a new discovery for his dramas, the legendary Polish actress Pola Negri. Oss is like a willful firefly in this film - zipping around with more mood changes than costume changes. If she doesn't get her way, she begins breaking things to which her father just mutters "I am not impressed".

A matchmaker finds a prince (Harry Liedtke)- a very poor one who lives with a friend in a rundown apartment and whenever anyone knocks on the door he hides his rings as he expects them to be debt collectors. When he hears the proposal he sends his friend (Julius Falkenstein) to take a look - instead he pretends to be the Prince and marries her. A night of massive Foxtroting, drinking but no nookie follows. The humor is very broad and quite absurd but fairly amusing with lots of poking sly fun at the wealthy and their inability to do anything but make money. The friend basically marries the girl just in order to eat and eat and eat. Tough times outside. Unlike those American Depression comedies though where in the end the wealthy have either had their comeuppance or learned something about humanity - nothing like that takes place here - they are just as rich and spoiled at the end as in the beginning - closer I think to real life.