MÄdchen In Uniform - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

(Girls in Uniform)

Germany, 1931

Director: Leontine Sagan with Carl Froelich

Production: Deutsches Film Gemeinschaft; black and white, 35mm; running time: 98 minutes; length: 8799 feet. Released 1931. A new, reconstructed print was released in the 1970s.

Screenplay: Christa Winsloe and F. D. Andam, from the play Yesterday and Today by Christine Winsloe; photography: Reimar Kuntze and Franz Weihmayr; music: Hansom Milde-Meissner.

Cast: Dorothea Wieck ( Fraülein von Bernburg ); Hertha Thiefe ( Manuela von Meinhardis ); Emilie Unda ( Headmistress ); Ellen Schwanneke ( Ilse von Westhagen ); Hedwig Schlichter ( Fraülein von Kosten ); Gertrud de Lalsky ( Manuela's aunt ).



Kracauer, Siegfried, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film , Princeton, 1947.

Klinowski, Jacek, and Adam Garbicz, Cinema, The Magic Vehicle: A Guide to Its Achievement: Journey One: The Cinema Through 1949 , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1975.

Sagan, Leontine, Lights and Shadows: The Autobiography of Leontine Sagan , edited and introduced by Loren Kruger, Johannesburg, 1996.


Close Up (London), March 1932.

New York Times , 21 September 1932.

Herald Tribune (New York), 21 September 1932.

National Board of Review Magazine (New York), September-October 1932.

Hardy, Forsyth, interview with Leontine Sagan, in Cinema Quarterly (London), Winter 1932.

Potamkin, Harry, "Pabst and the Social Film," in Hound and Horn (New York), January-March 1933.

Jahier, Valerio, "42 ans de cinema," in Le Role intellectuel du cinéma , Paris, 1937.

Kael, Pauline, in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang , Boston, 1968.

Kjborup, S., in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), December 1972.

Scholar, N., in Women in Film (Berkeley), Summer 1975.

Rich, B. Ruby, "From Repressive Tolerance to Erotic Liberation," in Jump Cut (Chicago), March 1981.

Schlüpmann, H., and K. Gramann, "Vorbemerkung," in Frauen und Film (Berlin), June 1981.

Thiefe, Hertha, "Gestern und Heute," an interview, in Frauen und Film (Berlin), June 1981.

Lefanu, Mark, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), January 1982.

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Mädchen in Uniform was directed by Leontine Sagan under the supervision of Carl Froelich in 1931; it was based on the play Yesterday and Today by Christine Winsloe. Its subversive anti-Fascist, anti-patriarchal themes seem astonishing when one realizes that the film was shot in Germany just two years before Hitler's rise to power.

Mädchen in Uniform achieved great popularity in Paris, London and Berlin, but it was later banned in Germany by Goebbels, Hitler's cultural minister, for its unhealthy moral conclusions. For the next few decades, the film was almost forgotten and received little critical attention. It seems to have been lost somewhere in film history between German expressionism and the Nazi cinema. In the early

Mädchen in Uniform
Mädchen in Uniform
1970s interest in the film was revived by women's film festivals; it has come to be seen as the first truly radical lesbian film; and in the last decade Mädchen in Uniform has finally received the recognition it deserves.

The structure of the film is a mixture of montage and narrative sequences which inform each other and create an atmosphere which perhaps could not have been achieved by the use of one of these methods alone. The montage sequence at the beginning of the film— stone towers, statues, and marching soldiers—sets up a compliance and strength, a tone that introduces the audience to the life of the girls at school. From the constricting montage shots, the camera turns immediately to the girls' school. Periodically, still shots of the militaristic, patriarchal world outside the school are interspersed with the narrative. The audience is reminded that although the school is a feminine space (indeed, there are no male characters in the film), it is surrounded and even permeated by ubiquitous male authority. Yet, that authority is itself called into question by the narrative, the defiance that continues despite the prevalence of authoritarianism. By its structure, the film succeeds in creating a feminine space enclosed in the literal walls (as exemplified by the montage) of the outside world.

In her utilization of the new sound medium, Sagan was the most advanced director in pre-war Germany. Lotte Eisner said: "With this work, the German sound film reached its highest level." Not only Sagan's precise use of dialogue but also her use of sound as metaphor (the sounding trumpet at the beginning and end of the film) and her creation of atmosphere, the whispers of the girls exchanging secrets, their final desperate chanting of Manuela's name—all attest to the accuracy of Eisner's statement.

Siegfried Kracauer also praised Sagan for her cinematography. He noted her ability to impart the "symbolic power of light" to her images. Sagan's use of shadows adds not only depth to the flat screen but also meaning and atmosphere. Sagan's cinematography is an excellent example of what Eisner calls " stimmung " (emotion), which suggests the vibrations of the soul through the use of light. The lighting and shooting of the stairway is a notable example. Its ascending shadows and its center depth create a tension in which the girls must operate, for the front, well-lighted stairs are off limits to them. The staircase is then a symbol of the girls' confinement, and its darkness literally shadows all of their activities.

Sagan also pioneered the cinematic convention of superimposition of one character's face over that of another to symbolize a deep psychological connection between them. She uses this technique in the film to convey moments of deep attraction between the teacher Fraulein von Bernburg and her student Manuela. The fusion of their images suggests the strength of their bond. It was a technique used 30 years later by Bergman in Persona to achieve the same effect.

Mädchen in Uniform was the first film in Germany to be cooperatively produced. The Deutsches Film Gemeinschaft was created especially for this project—a cooperative film company formed by the cast and crew in which shares rather than salaries were distributed.

—Gretchen Elsner-Sommer

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