Maedchen in Uniform (1931)

Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: When sensitive Manuela (Hertha Thiele) is sent to a strict boarding school for officers’ daughters, she is thrilled to discover that her new classmates are anything but miniature versions of their fathers. Immediately she is informed by the rambunctious ringleader Ilse (Ellen Schwanneke) that Manuela is lucky to have been placed under the care of Fräulein von Bernburg (Dorothea Wieck), the one instructor who elicits the budding passions of every girl in school. Manuela seems especially desperate for the affections of the young and beautiful teacher, who reciprocates by giving Manuela the nurturing she so obviously craves. However, the nasty Prussian headmistress (Emilia Unda) believes young girls are best formed into strong women by discipline and hunger, and does not support Fräulein von Bernburg’s soft hand.

Here on Garbo Laughs, I’m dedicating the entire month of June to the topic of Queer Cinema (LGBTQs, and depictions thereof, in classic film). This includes reviewing one relevant film from each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s. This is all leading up to my Queer Film Blogathon on June 27th. Won’t you join me in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month by contributing a post or two (or three)?

Based on the novel and play Gestern und heute (Yesterday and Today) by lesbian author Christa Winsloe, Leontine Sagan‘s polemic against the strict Prussian education system was released in 1931 to enormous financial success. However, historically it seems this success is attributed less to the film’s strong anti-fascist message and more to the groundbreaking all-female cast and the fact that this was one of the first films produced to feature an explicitly pro-lesbian storyline. It is quite astonishing to see lesbianism portrayed as a de facto way of life here; it is almost immediately introduced and not viewed as strange or different at all by the boarding school students. It’s disapproved of by the school administrators, but not so much due to its Sapphic nature but rather because any sign or expression of emotion is frowned upon. There is never any mention of the notion that these girls might be “settling” for lesbian relationships due to the lack of males in their lives, at least not in the English subtitles. You can definitely see why this film was viewed as revolutionary for its time; hell, there are very few movies even today that treat queerness so matter-of-factly. (more…)