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by Gustav Ucicky

grade: 7.5

Café Elektric is part of the so-called Sittenfilme – moral films – in which were told the stories of women who, after leading a dissolute life, finally understood the importance of true values. Made in 1927, the film is unfortunately incomplete today, as the last part has been permanently lost.

Moral lessons

A film with a very special story, Café Elektric by Gustav Ucicky. Made in 1927, the film is unfortunately incomplete today, as the last part has been permanently lost. The film, however, was restored in 1978 by the Filmarchiv Austria and a final caption briefly informs us about what happened at the end of the film. Yet, despite everything, the feature film is fortunately still enjoyable and has great historical and artistic significance.

Gustav Ucicky was one of the most important directors in Austria from the 1920s until approximately the end of World War II. Specialising in melodramas, love stories and propaganda films, the filmmaker here staged a film adaptation of Felix Fischer’s play Die Liebesbörse, written for the screen by Jacques Bachrach. Starring in the feature are Marlene Dietrich – here in her first leading role – and a very young Willi Forst, who had not yet begun his career as a director, but had already established himself as an actor and was also involved in the production of the film.

However, Café Elektric is part of the so-called Sittenfilme – moral films – in which were told stories of women who, after having led a dissolute life, finally realised the importance of true values. Thus, here is staged the story of Erni (Marlene Dietrich), the daughter of a wealthy builder, who falls in love with the handsome thief Ferdl (Willi Forst). The man is in reality only interested in Erni’s money and a series of situations will give rise to numerous misunderstandings that will also involve the couple formed by the former engineer Max (Igo Sym) and the young Hansi (Nina Vanna), who used to lure rich men at the Café Elektric, the true meeting point for all the film’s protagonists.

The initial title of the film was Prostitution. Irrwege der Liebe . This title, however, had many problems with censorship, since it was not easy at the time to speak clearly about prostitution. Yet, the story of the protagonists is quite explicit. The director, however, focused on emotions and romance in order to emphasise the importance of feelings and how they are destined to triumph. Both Erni and Hansi are two sincerely in love women. The love story between Max and Hansi is destined for a happy ending. Ferdl, on the other hand, is a greedy, hypocritical person who is destined to be alone as well as having many problems with justice. Good triumphs over evil and everything unfolds according to a classical script.

Yet Café Elektric stands out undoubtedly for its good mise-en-scene, its undoubted elegance and also for its pronounced lyricism. The close-ups of the actors’ faces speak for themselves. Similarly, the scenes shot in the city at night where the illuminated signs of the Café Elektric and a small cinema immediately make us experience the atmosphere of the era give the entire feature an important added value. It is a time of transition, where the consequences of war were still evident and it was not yet known that another one would soon break out. Gustav Ucicky knew exactly what to aim for and what emotions the audience needed. This important feature film of his – as well as many other films he directed – is a milestone in Austrian film history. And it still moves us and makes us dream every time we watch it again.

Original title: Café Elektric
Directed by: Gustav Ucicky
Country/year: Austria / 1927
Running time: 91’
Genre: drama, romance
Cast: Willi Forst, Marlene Dietrich, Fritz Alberti, Anny Coty, Igo Sym, Vera Salvotti, Nina Vanna, Wilhelm Völcker, Albert von Kersten
Screenplay: Jacques Bachrach
Cinematography: Hans Androschin
Produced by: Sascha-Film

Info: the page of Café Elektric on iMDb; the page of Café Elektric on the website of the Filmarchiv Austria