by Max Neufeld
A precocious Girl, a lively musical comedy of misunderstandings made in 1934 and directed by Max Neufeld, is a breath of fresh air. Yet, if one places this feature film within the vast production of sentimental comedies made in Austria between the beginning of the 1930s and the early 1940s, it is basically similar to many other films with, in addition, several imperfections within it.
Angelic face and birdlike voice
It comes as a breath of fresh air A precocious Girl (original title: Csibi, der Fratz), a lively musical comedy of misunderstandings made in 1934 and directed by Max Neufeld. And if it is true that in Austria, at that time, numerous amusing comedies set in the rich upper-class world were particularly successful, A precocious Girl (released in the same year as the more famous and successful Maskerade, directed by Willi Forst) is probably one of the most representative works in this film genre.
Loosely based on the play Le Fruit vert, written in 1924 by the Frenchmen Régis Gignoux and Jacques Théry, A precocious Girl stages the singular story of Lucie Carel (Franziska Gaal), a young and charming successful singer from Vienna. When she returns to her mother Maria’s (Leopoldine Konstantin) house, she discovers that the latter has recently been dating the elegant Dr. Lohnau (Anton Edthofer), who, however, still does not know her exact age and is unaware that she has an already adult daughter. In order to appear younger, therefore, Maria makes him believe that she is in fact the mother of a child. At this point, the young Lucie – nicknamed Csibi by her mother – thanks to her very youthful appearance and childlike voice, will pretend to still be a child.
Set during a single day, this feature film boasts, above all, the excellent performance of Hungarian-born actress Franziska Gaal, who is practically perfect in her portrayal of an adult woman and a lively, mischievous child. This is undoubtedly due to her particular voice, as well as her lovely face and slim body. And if, therefore, A precocious Girl is, in the end, very imperfect, it is thanks to Gaal’s excellent performance that it has been remembered over the years.
Because, in fact, if one wants to place this feature film within the vast production of sentimental comedies made in Austria between the beginning of the 1930s and the early 1940s, it is, in the end, similar to many other films in the genre with, in addition, an excessively predictable and linear screenplay, a lot of forced elements, a barely hinted music (if we consider that there are only three songs sung in the film, we can notice that this is very different from the many musical comedies produced in Hollywood in that period and in the decades to come) and almost non-existent subplots. In short, a pleasant, lively little story, which, in fact, fails to take off as it should, and which evidently relies on the performances of the cast.
It was not thanks to this work, therefore, that director Max Neufeld became popular. Although particularly talented in the staging of sentimental and musical films, the filmmaker – who, despite being of Jewish origin, could almost always work freely – was actually particularly acclaimed in Italy, from around the end of the 1930s until around the mid-1950s, directing films such as A Thousand Lire a Month (1938), The First Woman Who Passes (1940), Red Tavern (1940) and Abracadabra (1952).
And yet, despite its numerous imperfections, despite a not always satisfying screenplay, one cannot help but leave in a good mood after watching a film like A precocious Girl. Thanks, of course, to its lively and joyful protagonist, thanks to a simple and pleasant story (the tender relationship between mother and daughter is very well written) and, above all, thanks to Max Neufeld himself, who, as already mentioned, has always shown great mastery for this kind of films. But, however, Nemo propheta in patria.
Original title: Csibi, der Fratz
Directed by: Max Neufeld
Country/year: Austria / 1934
Running time: 84’
Genre: comedy, romance, musical
Cast: Franziska Gaal, Leopoldine Konstantin, Hermann Thimig, Herbert Hübner, Friedl Haerlin, Anton Edthofer, Tibor von Halmay, Theo Lingen, Hans Richter, Anton Pointner, F. W. Schröder-Schrom, Alfred Neugebauer, Margarete Kupfer, Christl Giampietro, Heinz Hanus
Screenplay: Richard Eichberg, Felix Jackson, Karoly Noti
Cinematography: Georg Bruckbauer, Willy Goldberger
Produced by: Universal Pictures