ⓘ Mädchen in Uniform

Madchen in Uniform

ⓘ Madchen in Uniform

Madchen in Uniform is a 1931 German feature-length film based on the play Gestern und heute by Christa Winsloe and directed by Leontine Sagan with artistic direction from Carl Froelich, who also funded the film. Winsloe also wrote the screenplay and was on the set during filming. The film remains an international cult classic.


1. Plot

Manuela von Meinhardis, whose mother had died when she was young and whose father serves in the military, is enrolled at an all-girls boarding school headed by the traditional and iron-fisted Fraulein von Nordeck zur Nidden. Manuela is immediately exposed to the strictness of the school when receiving her uniform and having many of her possessions taken from her. While the other girls at the school receive Manuela with open arms, she still feels very out of place, until she meets Fraulein von Bernburg, a teacher at the school. After witnessing Fraulein von Bernburgs compassion for the other girls, Manuela develops a passionate love for her teacher. The first spark of love begins with a goodnight kiss. While the teacher normally gives all the girls a goodnight kiss on the forehead, Manuela receives one on the lips.

There is a meeting asking the teachers in the school and the headmistress. Fraulein von Bernburg advocates using compassion and love when dealing with the students, but is met with disagreement from the headmistress and the other teachers. Fraulein von Bernburg is surprised to learn that Manuela is at the head of every other teachers’ class, but struggles to perform in her own.

During class, the girls are reciting from an assigned reading. The girls who are called upon all know their recitations, except Manuela, who cannot concentrate in Fraulein von Bernburg’s presence. After class, Fraulein von Bernburg calls for Manuela to meet her in her room. Manuela expects to be punished for not knowing the assigned material, but Fraulein von Bernburg comments on the state of the clothes the girl came to the school with, noting that there were many holes in them. Fraulein von Bernburg then gives one of her own petticoats to Manuela, at which she begins to weep. After much crying, Manuela confesses her love for Fraulein von Bernburg, and the teacher states that she" thinks often” of Manuela but that she cannot give her special treatment because the other girls will be jealous.

The girls gather around Ilsa von Westhagen, another student, as she reads aloud a letter to her parents complaining about the conditions at the school. She has a worker at the school smuggle the letter out.

The girls are preparing to put on a play, Don Carlos, by Friedrich Schiller, for the birthday of the headmistress. Manuela plays Don Carlos, the lead male role. Ilsa is to play another major role in the play, but is barred from performing after her letter to her parents denouncing the school is returned because of a wrong address. Ilsa packs up to leave the school, but Fraulein von Bernburg convinces her to stay. The girls put on the play for the headmistress and her guests; it is a great success, with a standout performance by Manuela. Fraulein von Bernburg sits in the front row, clearly moved.

After the play, the girls all meet for dinner and are served punch with alcohol in it by the kitchen workers. Manuela is shown drinking more than her friends. After much dancing and singing, she declares she wants to make a speech and reveals her feelings for Fraulein von Bernburg to the girls. Without knowing that the headmistresss assistant is in the room, Manuela tells them of the petticoat that Fraulein von Bernburg gave her; she says she believes Fraulein von Bernburg wanted her to wear it and think of her. Then, she declares that she is not afraid of anything or anyone - yelling it drunkenly in the direction of the headmistress, who has now entered the room.

After passing out, Manuela is brought to a room, where no-one is allowed to see her. She is scolded by the headmistress. The headmistress is then informed that the princess is on her way to the school to speak to her. The students and teachers all line up for the arrival of the princess. After observing all the students, she asks to see Manuela. The princess tells Manuela that she knew Manuelas mother and respected her as she was a very devout woman. The princess says that Manuela looks a little pale and asks whether she is sick, at which the headmistress rushes her away and denies any paleness.

After the meeting with the princess, the headmistress scolds Fraulein von Bernburg for being too close and compassionate with her students. She also tells her that she is never to speak to Manuela again. When Fraulein von Bernburg leaves the headmistresss office, Manuela is waiting for her. Fraulein von Bernburg tells Manuela to meet her in her room. In her room, Fraulein von Bernburg tells Manuela that while she cares for her, she is to never speak to her again. Manuela responds by saying that she will die. Fraulein von Bernburg tells her not to say such things and sends her away. As Manuela leaves the room, the headmistress arrives to excoriate Fraulein von Bernburg for speaking to Manuela and says that she can no longer be a teacher at the school. Fraulein von Bernburg says that she could not continue there anyway, for she needs to stand for justice and cannot bear to see the girls made into" fearful, helpless creatures.”

At this point, the girls and some staff are all looking for Manuela and cannot find her. Manuela has climbed up the main staircase and is ready to jump several stories. Manuela is saved by the other students. The headmistress and Fraulein von Bernburg walk out of Fraulein von Bernburgs room to discover a commotion and are then told that Manuela tried to jump and kill herself. Fraulein von Bernburg observes that the girls stopped a tragedy from occurring, that both she and the headmistress would have regretted the rest of their lives. The movie ends with all the girls watching the headmistress as she slowly walks down the stairwell and down the hall in shaken silence.


2. Production

Winsloes stage play had previously appeared under the title Ritter Nerestan Knight Nerestan in Leipzig with Hertha Thiele and Claire Harden in the lead roles. After Leipzig the play was produced on the stage in Berlin as Gestern und heute with a different cast and a more prominent lesbian theme, which was again toned down somewhat for the film.

Having mostly played the same roles on stage, the cast was able to produce the film at speed and on a low budget of RM55.000. It was largely shot at the Potsdam military orphanage, now a teacher training college for women. Carl Froelichs studio in Berlin-Tempelhof was also used. The films original working title was Gestern und heute Yesterday and Today but this was thought too insipid and changed to increase the chances of box-office success. Although sound had only been used for two years in cinema, it was used artfully.

The film was groundbreaking in having an all-female cast; in its sympathetic portrayal of lesbian "pedagogical eros" see Gustav Wyneken and homoeroticism, revolving around the passionate love of a fourteen-year-old Manuela for her teacher von Bernburg; and in its co-operative and profit-sharing financial arrangements although these failed.

During an interview about the film decades later, Thiele said

The whole of Madchen in Uniform was set in the Empress Augusta boarding school, where Winsloe was educated. Actually there really was a Manuela, who remained lame all of her life after she threw herself down the stairs. She came to the premiere of the film. I saw her from a distance, and at the time Winsloe told me, "The experience is one which I had to write from my heart." Winsloe was a lesbian.

Thiele also said, "However, I really dont want to make a great deal of or account for a film about lesbianism here. Thats far from my mind, because the whole thing of course is also a revolt against the cruel Prussian education system."

After many screen tests, Winsloe had insisted that her friend Thiele play the lead role. Director Sagan would have preferred Gina Falckenberg who had done the role on stage in Berlin, but along with having played Manuela in Leipzig, Thiele had already played a young lesbian in Ferdinand Bruckners stage play Die Kreatur The Creature and although twenty-three years old when filming began, she was considered to be more capable of portraying a fourteen-year-old.


3. Reaction

The film had some impact in the Berlin lesbian clubs, but was largely eclipsed by the ongoing cult success of Der blaue Engel 1930. The film did however generate large amounts of fan mail to the stars from all over Germany and was considered a success throughout much of Europe. The goodnight kiss Thiele received from Wieck was especially popular: one distributor even asked for more footage of other kisses like it to splice into prints of the film.

From its premiere at the Capitol cinema in Berlin until 1934 the film is said to have grossed some RM6.000.000. Despite the collective nature of the filming for which cast and crew received only a quarter of the normal wage, none saw a share of the 6.000.000 marks and Thiele later hinted that the profits had been mostly retained by the producers.

The film was distributed outside Germany and was a huge success in Romania. During a 1980 interview Thiele said the school play scene caused a "longstockings and kissing" cult when the film was first shown there. It was also distributed in Japan, the United States where it was first banned, then released in a heavily cut version, England and France.

Madchen in Uniform won the audience referendum for Best Technical Perfection at the Venice Film Festival in 1932 and received the Japanese Kinema Junpo Award for Best Foreign Language Film Tokyo, 1934.

Later, an alternate ending which subtly pandered to pro-Nazi ideals enabled continued screening in German cinemas, but eventually even this version of the film was banned as decadent by the Nazi regime, which reportedly attempted to burn all of the existing prints, but by then several had been dispersed around the world. Sagan and many others associated with the film fled Germany soon after the banning. Many of the cast and crew were Jewish, and those who could not escape from Germany died in the camps. "You were only first aware that they were Jewish when fascism was there and you lost your friends," said Thiele, who left Germany in 1937. Assistant director Walter Supper killed himself when it became clear his Jewish wife would be arrested.

Despite its later banning, Madchen in Uniform was followed by several German films about intimate relationships among women, such as Acht Madels im Boot Eight Girls in a Boat, 1932 and Anna and Elizabeth 1933, which also starred Wieck and Thiele but was banned by the Nazis soon after its opening night, along with Ich fur dich, du fur mich.

The film is said to have inspired the 1949 novel Olivia by Dorothy Bussy, which treats very similar themes, and which was made into a French film Olivia 1951 directed by Jacqueline Audry. Also in 1951, a Mexican adaptation Girls in Uniform was made. There was a German remake in 1958, directed by Geza von Radvanyi and starring Lilli Palmer, Romy Schneider, and Therese Giehse.


4. Censorship and surviving version

The film was almost banned in the US, but Eleanor Roosevelt spoke highly of the film, resulting in the film getting a limited release in the US in 1932–33. Prints of the film survived the war, but it was heavily censored until the 1970s, and it was not shown again in Germany until 1977 when it was screened on television there.

In 1978, Janus Films and Arthur Krim arranged for a limited re-release in the US in 35mm, including a screening at the Roxie Cinema in San Francisco. Also in 1978, the film was released in its surviving form by Janus Films on VHS with English subtitles.

Versions were later released in the US 1994 and the UK 2000 by the British Film Institute. Even this version is probably missing some brief scenes. For a full understanding of what may have been censored, a viewing of the film might be followed with a reading of the 1933 novel by Christa Winsloe Das Madchen Manuela / The Child Manuela Virago Press, 1994.


5. In popular culture

  • The album Madchen in Uniform 2009 by the German band Nachtmahr.
  • In the film Henry & June 1990, this is one of the films shown in the small art-house theater frequented by the main characters.
  • The film Loving Annabelle 2006 was reportedly inspired by Madchen in Uniform.
  • In Anthony Powells novel The Acceptance World 1955, the narrator, Nick Jenkins, is re-united with his first major love, Jean Templer, after Jean and her sister-in-law, Mona, have returned to the Ritz London on New Years Eve 1931, following a screening of the film. Jean is accompanied by her brother Peter. Nick who has seen the film is mildly mocked by his old schoolfriend Peter who has not, for saying that the film is not primarily about lesbians.
  • was a German actress. She appeared in more than 70 films and television shows between 1931 and 1977. Madchen in Uniform 1931 Paul and Pauline 1936 By
  • You 1930 The Night Is Ours 1930 Hans in Every Street 1930 Fire in the Opera House 1930 Madchen in Uniform 1931 Louise, Queen of Prussia 1931
  • 1930 Fire in the Opera House 1930 How Do I Become Rich and Happy? 1930 End of the Rainbow 1930 The Land of Smiles 1930 Madchen in Uniform 1931
  • the Reeperbahn at Half Past Midnight 1929 The Blue Angel 1930 Madchen in Uniform 1931 Anna and Elizabeth 1933 Hans Westmar 1933 William Tell
  • picture Madchen in Uniform In 1952, Dilian was nominated for an Ariel Award for Stolen Paradise. Over the next several years, Dilian starred in a number
  • In that issue, 374 women publicly stated that they had had pregnancies terminated, which at that time was illegal. Precocious Youth 1957 Madchen in
  • English: Iron Men uses spoken word samples from the German film Madchen in Uniform from 1931. There are two known unreleased tracks from Edelrost

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