by Allan Fish
(Germany 1929 121m) not on DVD
Aka. Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins Glück
Having nothing left to lose
p Willi Münzenberg d Phil Jutzi w Willy Döll, Jan Fethke story Otto Nagel, Heinrich Zille ph Phil Jutzi ed Elfriede Bottrich m Paul Dessau, Wolfgang Sternberg art Karl Haacker, Robert Scharfenberg
Alexandra Schmitt (Mother Krause), Holmes Zimmermann (Paul), Ilse Trautschold (Erna), Gerhard Bienert (lodger), Vera Sacharowa (prostitute), Friedrich Gnass (Max), Fee Wachsmuth (the kid),
It’s surely one of the best kept secrets in German cinema. How many people recognise Phil Jutzi’s Mother Krause as one of the major works of Weimar Germany? How many people recognise Phil Jutzi? If you do, it’s more than likely to be as the director of the first 1931 adaptation of Berlin Alexanderplatz. That film is now readily available as an extra on Criterion’s box-set of Fassbinder’s gargantuan TV remake, and it’s rather a mixed bag, as one might expect for such an abbreviated version of the original book. That wouldn’t get Jutzi more than a footnote in film history, yet he deserves more than that. Today, if asked to name a pivotal left wing communist influenced German film to come out of Weimar Germany, chances are you would name Dudow’s Kuhle Wampe. I’ll be damned, however, if Mother Krause isn’t an even better film.
Mother Krause lives in a fairly squalid apartment with her wastrel drunk son, Paul and her daughter Erna, along with a prostitute, her son and her pimp, who live as lodgers in a back room. While Erna meets a young worker, Max, at the fairground, her son Paul prefers to spend his mother’s hard-gotten gains on drink, literally pawning the jacket off his own back for an extra pint before sending his old mother off to buy it back. Erna’s happiness is thwarted when the pimp tells Max that he’s slept with her before, and when a rumpus kicks off the pimp threatens to move out, leaving old Mother Krause on the breadline. With Erna nearly coerced into prostitution to get the 20DM Mother needs from a lecherous middle-aged man and Paul arrested after a bungled robbery, Mother Krause realises she’ll never have happiness and ends her life by gassing her room, and killing not only herself but the prostitute’s small son, for whom she also sees no future.
Thus, just as Kuhle Wampe began with a suicide, so Mother Krause ends with one. It’s a shocking scene, but in retrospect the natural conclusion to the story. From the start the characters are flirting with perdition. When we first see Erna she’s dancing with the pimp while the prostitute looks on and it’s clear just what the pimp wants from her. Likewise Paul is shown to be the spineless character he is when we see him trying to break into the small child’s piggybank for cash. What’s most striking, though, is that, with its links to the Soviet cinema of the period – it was made by the Marxist collective Prometheus, after all – it has essences of the social comedies of Boris Barnet and Abram Room’s Bed and Sofa. Very sexually aware, it’s a world where women can only avoid abject poverty by selling their bodies, and Erna only escapes that end by the skin of her teeth, caught up in the maelstrom of a political demonstration.
Watching Mother Krause today it’s hard not to contextualise it in comparison to other works of the period; the street school of Karl Grüne, Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin and, especially, People on Sunday. This is a different creature, however, owing more to the Soviet style, as when a scene of Erna washing her legs in a small bowl in the living room under the pimp’s lustful glare, dissolves into her playing with Max in a swimming pool. Most potently, it comes out in the finale, as Erna returns home to find her mother dying and glancing over to see the body of the kid, already covered by a blanket, her horror expressed in a cutting frenzy owing to not just Eisenstein but Abel Gance. It’s a remarkable social document, terribly under-represented in film tomes, but get the word out there about one of the great German films of the 1920s.