A high-spirited adolescent (Romy Schneider), having lost both her parents, is enrolled in a German school for girls, where she makes friends (and an enemy or two) among her peers and the staff and develops a crush on one of her teachers (Lilli Palmer). She is not the only girl who has this same crush, and jealousy pushes the button that leads to the film's interesting finale -- one that goes neither too far nor not far enough toward its thoughtful conclusion. The film resists over-the-top melodrama, relying instead on a modicum of understanding and possible change to come -- and on the performances of its two leading ladies, and a third, Therese Giehse, who plays quite well the school's stern and (nearly) unforgiving headmistress.
Loving Annabelle, supposedly inspired by those mädchen.
The film captures life in a girl's school of this time quite well, and the movie ends up a period piece for -- actually -- two different periods. One is circa 1900, when the tale takes place; the other is late-1950s Europe, when the movie was being made. As usual with movies set in past time, the hairstyles, make-up and body types (but not the costumes, which seem pretty accurate) tend to reflect more the time in which the film was shot than the time is it supposed to depict. Yet this odd mix works because both periods will seem pretty ancient to today's younger viewers. Consequently, everything may appear equally "historic."
Wolfe Video -- the premiere source for LGBT films. Available at this point for sale (from Wolfe or Amazon, to name two sources) and for rental via Blockbuster (and perhaps the few remaining independent video stores), the film should have been picked up by Netflix and Greencine, as well. You might want to give either or both rental sources a emailed kick-in-the-butt and tell them to order it, fast. (You can "save" it to your Netflix queue, but that does not guarantee that it will be ordered by the company.)
Yes, it is a complex set of time frames to be aware of. The most interesting thing to me is why this German production company decided to remake this particular film at that particular time. The original 1931 version is considered to be the first lesbian film ever made and, although it depicts the homophobic and repressive environment of the school authorities, it ultimately expresses sympathy for its lesbian protagonist. This 1958 version similarly comes away as a plea for understanding and is even more interesting because the role of the strict headmistress is played by German-Jewish (and "out" lesbian) stage actress Therese Giehse. It is so fascinating to watch her performance as she expresses her disgust of Manuela's lesbian tendencies ("She loves you in a very sick way," she says to the teacher, Miss von Bernburg) and then to see her come around to a more compassionate perspective in the end of the film.
Of course it has much more in common with the original than it does with Loving Annabelle. And Katherine Brooks is very articulate about the fact that Loving Annabelle is not in any way a remake of Madchen but rather is inspired by it. She really had the vision and imagination (and courage) to explore a contemporary version of the story and to try to make it even more satisfying for a modern lesbian audience. But of course Loving Annabelle also confronts the ethical/moral dilemmas of a teacher-student relationship as it delves deeper into the romance.
How was the 1958 version greeted critically and by audiences when it was first released? Was it seen to be a “lesbian” film in the same way that The Children’s Hour (original and remake) were also seen?
Bosley Crowther in The New York Times when it had its delayed theatrical release in 1965. Mainly he goes on and on about he thinks the original (VHS art shown at right) is much better than this one and he barely says anything substantial about the film itself. I have never seen any other reviews of the film and obviously it was not widely released like The Children's Hour and other films of that era.
Are there any other “classic” films that you would like to see given a second chance, as Wolfe is doing with Madchen in Uniform?
What a wonderful question! There are so many important LGBT films that have never been released on consumer formats. The original 1931 Madchen came out on VHS long ago and I would love to see that available again. But it is not very likely. It is increasingly difficult for a vintage DVD release to make financial sense (with the possible exception of the Criterion Collection which does such a wonderful job of unearthing archival treasures). For all of you classic film enthusiasts, please do whatever you can to support the release of these films (including adding them to your Netflix queue to demonstrate that there is a demand for them).
We have worked very hard to make this Madchen DVD release happen (it took more than a year to track down the German rights holder). And at this moment, in fact, Netflix has not yet placed an order for the DVD because (despite an intensive social network campaign we launched last month) they say there is not enough demand shown to warrant them carrying it. This is a really interesting thing that people should be aware of — that Netflx does not necessarily carry all new releases, and that in many cases it is the smaller films that are the ones to suffer and not get the circulation they deserve.
Anything else you would like to talk about on or near this subject, while I’ve got you, Jenni?
The other most striking thing about the film is that even in it’s melodramatic moments it never descends into camp. It really holds up as a serious drama with a terrific 100 per cent lesbian hero. I hope other viewers agree and will find it as moving as I do.