To Siberia (Na Sybir)(1930) Director: Henryk Szaro;
Although Russian propaganda would have us believe that only criminals were sent to Siberia, this simply isn't true. Russia has been sending Poles to Siberia for over two hundred years - and as recently as 1940 in the early part of World War II. Although they where exiled for many reasons, it was basically anyone that was deemed a threat to the Russians. Along with them came their families, so women and children were also imprisoned in the frozen wasteland.
Polish films that touch upon the issue of sybiracy (Polish exiles sent to Siberia) are extremely rare. Anything that would put Russia in a bad light was sure to be discouraged (or outright forbidden) during the Soviet occupation of Poland, so until recently it was impossible to touch this topic. But interestingly enough, there is a film made before the war about the Siberian experience. To Siberia (Na Sybir), directed by Henryk Szaro in 1930, is remarkable and worth watching because of the subject it addresses.
The film begins with a man giving us some historical context, but from there just about the rest is a silent movie, which may take some patience for today's audiences. However, Na Sybir stands out compared to other Polish films from the 1930s as one of the most exciting and suspenseful I have watched. There are a couple action scenes, such as a shootout and a chase scene, which make the film very suspenseful. So while we may have to read a screen of text to see what they are saying, this film is worth the effort.
The story takes place in 1905 and shows us a glimpse of an earlier Russian occupied Poland. After the assignation of the Governor-General, the Russian authorities in Warsaw are bent on finding the conspirators. Ryszard (Adam Brodzisz) is a Polish patriot that is considered a terrorist to the Russians and a hero to the Poles. He manages to find time to fall in love with a woman named Rena before being caught. The Russians know he was part of the plot, but do not know exactly how much he was involved, so he is sentenced to exile in Siberia. But his sweetheart Rena doesn't stand still while he is sent away, so she follows him to Siberia.
There is something dreadful in the whole idea of sending people to some icy prison. I have sympathy for the men, women and children that were doomed to starvation, disease, and the harsh conditions of Siberia. Many of them were true Polish patriots and this loss should not be forgotten. Those who made it back to Poland and didn't perish equally amaze me.
Sound Of The Desert (Glos Pustyni)(1932) Director: Michal Waszynski;
Sound of the Desert (Glos Pustyni) is a romance with action and drama. The movie is exotic in a way as it takes us to an unusual place. The story is set in beautiful North Africa. The setting itself is striking with its cobblestone paths and unique architecture; the vegetation is breathtaking as the palm trees and unusual cactuses are quite a sight; and there are sand dunes in the background of all of this, which adds a romantic feeling to the movie.
The opposing sides in the film are the French Foreign Legion and a free tribe led by Sheik Abdullah, who terrorizes caravans that pass though the deserts he controls. After Abdullah captures a legionnaire the drama really begins. The Sheik's wife, Dzemila, takes pity on him and frees him. But she takes it a step further and decides to leave with him and even falls in love with her husband's enemy. Now, the Polish angle to the story is that the Legionnaire is a Pole.
Although the love smitten Dzemila follows her soldier with hungry eyes, her new life isn't exactly a step up. Her new life isn't as romantic as she may have envisioned it as she now has to work as a dancer to get by. Without giving away the plot, I can say there is trouble brewing from the beginning.
Just as the life is Dzemila has a tragic side, so does the actual life of the actress that plays her, as Nora Ney's film career did not resume after the war. Nora was a silent era star so she did well with this role that in which she had to communicate so much with facial expressions. However, Nora wasn't able to find her place with the next transition in Polish cinema when it became serious and an outlet for healing the wounds Poland and its people endured during the war.
As you may know, Polish cinema in the 1930s was family friendly and modest; there wasn't any nudity and violence was minimal. Although Voice of the Desert complies with these standards, it also comes close to the edge of acceptability and may have raised some eyebrows at the time with a seductive belly dance scene.
Glos Pustyni was directed by Michal Waszynski in 1932. It should be mentioned that Eugeniusz Bodo wrote the screenplay, dialogue and also played the role of Sheik Abdullah. Bodo and Waszynski were co-owners of the film company BWB, which made Glos Pustyni.
Ten Percent For Me (Dziesiec Procent dla Mnie)(1933) Director: Juliusz Gardan;
With the tough economic times in the 1930s, escaping the reality of every day life was a nice break from one's worries. Coming into a lot of money was a fantasy many people would dream about. Ten Percent for Me (Dziesiec Procent dla Mnie) is a comedy that does both of these, as it is an amusing story about a family that inherits a fortune.
When a notary informs a family that their aunt that moved to America has given them $50,000 in her will, they are overjoyed! The mother, who sees herself as having noble blood, sees this as her chance to finally live a life more fitting to her tastes. The family decides to move to Warsaw to begin their new life. But the daughter is leaving behind her sweetheart she loves from the same village. Although her father is laid back about the matter, her mother is totally against them being together and sees this as a great way to keep them apart.
When they get to the city, things get pretty funny. This family from the country is a little out of place in the big city. Furthermore, while the wife imagines herself to be royalty, she lacks cultural refinement and constantly makes a fool of herself. Top it off with they are all very naive and make easy targets for con men looking to make some money. When they arrive in the city, they meet a man who agrees to take them around the city, but he tells the shops beforehand that he wants his ten percent. I found a lot of things in this film funny, albeit the humor was based on the ridiculous.
Ten Percent for Me is both a comedy and a musical. There is plenty of singing throughout the movie for those who like such things. Each and every Polish film made during the interwar period is special in some way. We are lucky that these movies were not destroyed over the years and that we are still able to watch them today. With Ten Percent for Me, it is quite a treat to see how beautiful Warsaw was in 1933.
Toy (Zabawka)(1933) Director: Michal Waszynski;
Toy (Zabawka) is a drama about a cabaret singer named Lulu (Alma Kar). With the help of her friends, Lulu decides to charm a rich man from the county and begins an adventure far more complicated than she anticipated. After Lulu's performance, the two wealthiest guests request Lulu and her friend accompany them at their table. The wealthy estate owner Baron Latoszynski is big, but gentile. After sharing some drinks, Lulu decides to sneak into Latoszynski's car and go home with him.
Latoszynski's arrival with a girl from the city is a shock for his servants. Lulu is a woman that sees opportunity in having a relationship with a rich man, and you may even say she is a gold digger. The timid shell of the estate owner doesn't stop him from getting his way, so Lulu has more in store for herself than she intends. When Latoszynski gets a telegram that his son is arriving with his fiancee, Lulu is quickly taken to a nearby hunting cabin for a few days to prevent gossip.
Although hiding Lulu may seem like a good idea at the time, it backfires for several reasons. In addition to being disrespectful to Lulu, the forester's son Kuzma (Eugeniusz Bodo) lives right next to the cabin. Kuzma is a ladies man so it is like keeping the fox with the chicken. Furthermore, when the Baron's son sees Lulu, he falls for her too.
As with many of the films directed by Michal Waszynski, the story could be considered a drama with tragic irony. There is quite a mess with three men interested in Lulu and she isn't sure which one she will choose. Her flirtation with each of them backfires. We are not sure if any of the men are really serious about her or are just treating her like a toy. Lulu thought she could manipulate the situation to suit her, but the truth is that she may be the one that is being used.
As with most pre-war Polish films, we don't see the lives of average people, but of those that are very rich. It is interesting to see in Zabawka that the class divide is shown very clearly. When the forester's son is invited to the party, he celebrates with the other servants out of sight of the other wealthy invited guests.
The Stray (Przybleda)(1933) Director: Jan Nowina-Przybylski & Jan Rogozinski;
The Stray (Przybleda) is a drama that feels like a classical tragedy, but is set in the Polish highlands. As the story has all the basic themes, such as jealousy, infidelity and murder, that are part of tragic tales ancient and modern. I think the story has a timeless appeal, but presents it in a special way. It fully embraces its setting making it part of the fabric of the story. The beautiful landscapes and colorful costumes of the people that live in the Polish highlands are unforgettable.
The outsider of this story is Maryjka (Ina Benita). She is a beautiful blonde woman that outshines all of the village women with her looks. The women of the village despise Maryjka because their men adore her. All of the village women are convinced Maryjka is cursed and brings death to their cows, but her only curse is her looks that make men behave like animals. All of the men desire Maryjka, including the married ones, which begets troubles for them all. Even the chieftain is smitten by Maryjka, so in order to stay on the good side of the most powerful man in this village isn't an easy task for her.
The witch-hunt mob mentality that possesses the village is frightening, but is part and parcel of every story about an outsider. The story doesn't have a great deal of dialogue and uses a lot of visual communication to get its messages across. Despite the mistakes Maryjka and the others make, the story doesn't leave us without the hope that things can get better and one can redeem oneself. Considering how much the story does in just over an hour is quite impressive, so I have to give a lot of credit to Jan Nowina-Przybylski and Jan Rogozinski, the directors of Przybleda.
Love Is For Everyone (Kazdemu wolno kochac)(1933) Director: Mieczyslaw Krawicz, Janusz Warnecki;
Love is For Everyone (Kasdemu wolno kochac) is a musical comedy about love. Although there is a bit of singing, it is more about a musician and the song he writes than a film filled with various songs. There really isn't anything serious in this movie and the humor is between the ridiculous and the silly, but more than anything else, it is entertaining. There is a lot to amuse us as it plays up on misunderstandings, dumb luck, and being at the right place at the right time.
Alojzy Kedziorek (Mariusz Maszynski) is a poor pianist that never thinks he will find love. He likes Renia, the landlord's daughter, but she seems too out of reach. Alojzy's friend Hipek (Adolf Dymsza) gets a job working as a servant at the party the landlords are hosting, so he invites him to play music at the party. This gives Alojzy a chance to see Renia, but her mother and her would be fiancee both don't like them meeting. They decide to bring Renia to the country for some time to forget Alojzy, but he goes after her. But before Alojzy peruses her, he writes a song that ends up becoming a hit. Despite several hardships, everything falls in place nicely and it is a very amusing story.
The song Alojzy wrote is about anyone can find love. The main plot of the story is a mirror of the song, combined with a theme of everything can work out in the end. Although that may sound serious, almost nothing in this movie is serious. As the story progresses, I think it becomes more and more funny. Love is For Everyone is a great movie for those who like comedies that remind us we shouldn't take life too serious, or the joke is on us for missing the humor of all that just passed by us.
Life Sentence (Wyrok Zycia)(1933) Director: Juliusz Gardan;
Life Sentence (Wyrok Zycia) is a drama about a life that takes a wrong turn, but not without the help of deception. The story begins at the trial of a woman accused of murdering her baby. Krystyna, a lawyer that watched the trial, decides to help out Jadzia (Jadwiga Andrzejewska) and appeal her case. We then learn how Jadzia came to this point in her life as she tells her story to Krystyna.
Jadzia's story is very tragic. Her life was pretty normal a year earlier, with ambitions to better herself by studying at night while she works during the day. We know things did not work out as she hoped as Jadzia is serving her life sentence; but as we learn about what happened to Jadzia, we gain some sympathy for her.
It all goes downhill fast when she went on a day trip to the country. On the train she met a man who she fell in love with, but when she returned to her job in the city, he didn't try to find her. She is so distracted from the encounter that she makes too many mistakes at work and gets fired. Without a job, she soon gets kicked out of her home. But the real surprise is that she got pregnant. Undoubtedly, her story is realistic and not too different than things that actually do happen. Despite all the sensation to this story, the gritty details are left off screen.
Life Sentence, directed by Juliusz Gardan in 1933, isn't entirely a sob story. What makes the story more interesting is that there is a twist to the story. Krystyna is vigilant in wanting to help Jadzia, but she is linked to the man who was the other half in making Jadzia's life go downhill. Call it irony or karma, things come back with a bite.
Twelve Chairs (Dwanascie krzesel)(1933) Director: Michal Waszynski, Martin Fric;
Twelve Chairs (Dwanascie krzesel) is a 1933 Polish-Czechoslovakian comedy based on the Russian novel by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov. While this movie is loosely based on the book, there have been many adapations of this story. More than a couple Russian reditions have been made, a Cuban version by Tomas Gutierrez Alea, and even Mel Brooks directed an English language portrayal.
The story begins with a barber named Ferdinand Suplatko who gets a letter to go to Warsaw to collect his Aunt's estate. When get gets there, he finds there really isn't much left in her apartment but twelve chairs. He decides to sell them to the antique shop across the street to make enough money to return home. But shortly later, he finds a note from his aunt saying there is $100,000 dollars hidden in one of the chairs. Now he must rush to find the chairs that were sold the day before.
The premise of the story is great and is filled with irony. There is irony in that fact that the barber's greed motivates him in getting the chairs back, but it was also his greed for making some quick money that caused the problem in the first place. Furthermore, he disrespects his aunt in several ways, but she gets the last laugh, as he must go chase down what was already his.
Dwanascie krzesel is directed by Michal Waszynski and Martin Fric and is spoken in Czech and Polish. Although this edition has a lector (in Polish) for the parts spoken in Czech. Both directors were incredibly prolific and influential directors in their time. Twelve Chairs is a classic and its humor still works well despite the passage of time. It has a blend of irony and the ridiculous that I find incredibly funny.
Ulan Weddings (Sluby Ulanskie)(1934) Director: Mieczyslaw Krawicz;
Ulan Weddings is a film about a group of Polish light cavalry (Ulans). The story begins some fifteen years after WWI, but takes us back to 1914 when Poland was not on the map (as her neighbors divided her out of existence over a century earlier). The flashback starts out on August 1, 1914, when a Polish cavalry is just forming. In uniforms that have eagles on their caps, armed with rifles and carrying saddles, the group heads to the Russian occupied area of Poland. On their way to battle, they stop at an estate.
I think the arrival of Polish solders at the estate is a very memorable scene. For those Poles who lived under the rule of the Russians (or Austrians or Prussians), to behold actual Polish soldiers would be an unforgettable experience. All of their hopes in having a free county again are with this new army. The owners of the estate welcome the Polish soldiers despite the risks, feeding them and giving them a place to stay for the night. But when the soldiers discover the owners of the manor have horses, they ask for those too. Although a bit reluctant at first, the estate owner not only gives them the horses, but also joins their ranks leaving behind his wife.
The patriotic feelings Ulan Weddings stirs will give you chills. Ulan Weddings was made in 1934 and many of those viewing it at the time actually lived through WWI. This movie stays clear of stirring up painful memories by not focusing too much on the war itself. Ulan Weddings is by far more of a musical comedy and romance, so it isn't a serious war movie. And as the title gives away, several of these Ulans find love when they return to the manor years later.
Black Pearl (Czarna Perla)(1934) Director: Michal Waszynski;
Michal Waszynski was a prolific director of Polish cinema in the 1930s. In 1934, he directed Black Pearl (Czarna Perla), which is an adventure/romance that has an exotic side to the story as it begins in Tahiti. Like other films directed by Waszynski, it is impossible to escape the irony in his movies.
Following a bar fight in Tahiti, a sailor ends up unconscious. As fate may have it, this leads to Stefan Nadolski (Eugeniusz Bodo) being saved by a local woman named Moana. She loves him from the start, while his feelings aren't so strong. Moana's love for Stefan allows him to see a sacred cave where offerings of flowers unite the couple that brings them there for their entire life. But the cave also holds offerings of pearls that divers bring to it to earn luck; and bad luck is struck on anyone that removes the pearls from the cave. Stefan, of course, says "boo" to taboo and sees the pearls as a way to return to Poland with some money in his pocket.
When Stefan returns to Poland with his girlfriend Moana, he quickly assumes the role of a wealthy businessman with the money he made from selling a pearl. But bad luck follows him in the form of a group of thieves that want the rest of his treasure. In Poland, Stefan neglects Moana to the point where she becomes very desperate, so she takes a drastic step to get his attention. Although the movie explores the theme of superstition, it really doesn't make any decisive conclusions on it.
I have to give this movie credit for going an extra step to add realism. In addition to the Polish dialogue, there are also a few parts in French and English. It really appears as if parts of the film were actually shot on location in Tahiti, with palm trees that attest to it. The main female lead, Moana (Anne Chevalier), isn't a Polish actress. She was actually born in Tahiti and starred in a couple other films in the 1930s.
Young Forest (Mlody Las)(1934) Director: Joseph Lejtes;
Young Forrest (Mlody Las) is probably one of the most serious pre-war Polish films I ever watched. The title is a metaphor and not one to be taken literally. Directed by Joseph Lejtes in 1934, Young Forrest takes us back thirty years earlier from when this movie was made to 1904-5. At this time, Poland as a country has not existed for over a century due to her neighbors partitioning her into non-existence. The story is primarily about a boys' school and the students there (as well as the girls' school).
At the time, the students were forbidden to learn about Polish history; they had to learn about such topics secretly. The students are fully aware that the education system is not one in which the truth is taught, but rather one their government wants them to learn. It is ironic watching this movie and seeing this considering the situation was exactly the same after World War II in Soviet occupied Poland. Children were taught the real truth at home by their parents (such as the truth about Katyn) and had to listen to something else at school -- they could not reveal their real thoughts at school as that would result in serious consequences. And truly oddly enough, the situation really isn't much different today (at least in America). Certain topics and beliefs that were normal not so long ago are now considered "outdated" by the left-wing educators. Today, parents have to educate their values to their children, as the school only teaches the "new" values (or lack of them, with mottos like "there is no such thing as right or wrong").
It doesn't take a great philosopher to figure out the future is in the hands of the children. What the children think and what they believe shapes the entire future, so I guess it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that in every age controlling the education of the youth is considered vital for controlling the society. But despite this being obvious, it is still eye opening to watch. There are scenes in Young Forrest that talk about solidarity and strikes, reminding us of Poland in the 1980s, both being key elements to the downfall of communism in Poland. Furthermore, the parts in the movie that show the occupiers' method of "rule by the rifle" reminded me of the many films I watched about German occupied Poland, which I can only say is eerie.
As with many pre-war films, the actors and directors were all affected by the outbreak of the war. It is worth noting that the School Director Starogrenadzki is played by Boguslaw Samborski. Samborski makes a great villain as he has this natural scary aura. He was one of the few Polish actors that participated in German films during the war. Samborski was in the infamous 1941 Nazi propaganda film Homecoming (Heimkehr), which was an attempt to justify the invasion of Poland in 1939. For his collaboration, Samborski was no longer safe in Poland and had to flee to Germany after the war, eventually ending up in Argentina where he lived until his death in 1971.
The director's career was also changed due to the war. Lejtes no longer made Polish movies after the war, but continuing making films in Israel, Great Britain and the United States. His post-war work includes television series such as Bonanza and 12 O'Clock High.
Miss Post Office (Panienka z Poste Restante)(1935) Director: Jan Nowina-Przybylski, Michal Waszynski;
People can find love unexpectedly, especially in the movies. Miss Post Office (Panienka z poste restante) mixes comedy with romance, and even has a little musical side to it too. Miss Post Office takes us back to 1935, in this film directed by Jan Nowina-Przybylski and Michal Waszynski.
Marysia Kochanska (Alma Kar) usual work is at the post office, but when she embarks on a month-long vacation her life is forever changed for the better. Due to a comedy of errors, Marysia causes a telegram to be sent incorrectly, which directly influences her fate. Adam Olszewicz (Aleksander Zabczynski) is the owner of a large corporation and never requested a secretary, but when Marysia shows up, she quickly assumes this role and more.
Things really get interesting when Mr. Smith (Michal Znicz), a business partner with some shares in the company, knowingly sets up trouble for the pair hoping to turn the situation to his advantage. Once headquarters realizes their mistake in sending Marysia, they send along the correct people, which include an auditor and a cook. But they have a great deal of trouble catching up to the train Olszewicz is on, chasing them all over Europe.
Although we can go along with many things for the sake of the story to work, there is one detail that is impossible to overlook. The cars of the train they ride in are incredibly and impossibly large. First of all, there is far too much furniture in the car for it to be real. Having a car with a salon, two bedrooms, a kitchen and even a bathroom with a shower is just a bit too much. While some of these may be possible, they are definitely not in the way it is shown in the movie. But overlooking this detail, the rest of the story works well.
Wacus(1935) Director: Michal Waszynski;
Michal Waszynski directed many great Polish movies before WWII. In 1935 he directed Wacus, which is a very entertaining film and one that I would recommend to everyone that enjoys comedies. Just like most other pre-WWII Polish films, Wacus is a family friendly.
Tadeusz Rosolek (Adolf Dymsza) works at a pawnshop and meets a pretty young woman named Kazia who wants to pawn a watch. Tadeusz takes a great liking to her and wants to help her. With a little effort, he manages to find out Kazia and her mother run a boarding house for boys. After trying to find them clients with no luck, Tadeusz tells them his younger brother is coming and will need a place to stay. The thing is, Tadeusz doesn’t have a brother but pretends to be him in order to help them out and spend more time with Kazia.
Tadeusz buys a schoolboy outfit, changes his voice a little and managers to fool others into thinking he really is younger. A lot of suspense builds as we wonder how long can Tadeusz continue balancing his regular life with the one her made up. He manages to get away with a lot so his luck is bound to run out eventually, giving some tension to this otherwise carefree story.
Although the film is just under an hour, it is packed with humor and is very entertaining. The story is ridiculous, but very funny. There are also some special effects (you will know them when you see them) that involve camera tricks, which are sometimes used to add humor, but they also give an artistic element too. After seeing this movie, you may come to the conclusion that the Polish directors in the 1930s (such as Waszynski) certainly knew how to make outstanding comedies.
Miss Brinx's Secrets (Tajemnica Panny Brinx)(1936) Director: Bazyli Sikiewicz;
Miss Brinx's Secrets (Tajemnica Panny Brinx) is a pre-war Polish film made in 1936 by Bazyli Sikiewicz. Just as the title suggests, this movie has a lot of mystery and suspense, but it is also a comedy. The story begins with a young blonde woman named Katy Brinx (Lena Zelichowska) taking a train to the mountains. In her train compartment she befriends an actress named Wanda going to the same place for a holiday. There is something unusual about Katy, as she seems nervous and anxious about something.
The trouble begins when they go hiking in the mountains and Katy falls off the ledge. Wanda becomes obsessed with finding out more about Katy and who she really was. She does this by bleaching her hair blonde and assuming her identity, hoping to uncover those Katy believed pursued her. But Wanda finds out Katy's paranoia was based on sound grounds, as someone really was after her. Wanda zigzags the country, from the Tatra Mountains to Gdynia, trying to uncover more about Katy and get away from those who are after her.
The basic plot is seeped with mystery as we are gripped with suspense, but as the details fall in place, the seriousness of the plot become very funny. While the movie seems serious enough most of the time, the rest isn't serious at all. Between all of the chasing, Wanda manages to fall in love so there is also an element of romance to the story as well. Overall, Miss Brinx's Secrets is quite entertaining and has enough plot twists to keep us wondering what will become of Wanda in her quest to uncover Katy Brinx's secrets.
Happy Freddy (Fredek Uszczesliwia Swiat)(1936) Director: Zbigniew Ziembinski;
Your Polish film collection isn't complete without the great films made in the 1930s. Although one may be hesitant thinking they are somehow too old to be any good - this simply isn't true. Pre-war Polish films are much more similar to contemporary Polish cinema than one may imagine. Dramas and comedies, much like the ones made today, were very popular before the war.
Happy Freddy (Fredek Uszczesliwia Swiat) is comedy about an inventor that wants to gladden the world with his new device. Freddy (Zbigniew Rakowiecki) creates a gadget that connects to a phone so one can see what the person on the other side is doing. With the help of his slick-talking friend, Freddy plans to make a fortune on his invention.
While "phone-a-vision" seems like a great idea, it also causes all sorts of problems as it takes away the privacy of the person on the other side. The wrongdoing of others, both real and imagined, creates all sorts of troubles. Ironically, technology doesn't make life any better, but it does provide some great humor.
Although this movie has a very silly type of humor and very little that can be taken serious, it is a perfect movie to get away from the world we live in and amuse us. There are many scenes with singing, so it is clearly a musical also. Interestingly enough, the loss of privacy via technology is correctly predicated in this 1936 comedy.
I can't help but wonder what Polish films would be like today if WWII didn't happen. The war deeply touched the lives of everyone in Poland and changed the nature of Polish cinema for decades. Even the leading actor, Zbigniew Rakowiecki, came to the defense of his country serving in the September campaign at the outbreak of the war, was in the AK during the German occupation, and died during the Warsaw Uprising fighting the Germans on August, 5 1944.
Ghetto Queen (Krolowa Przedmiescia)(1937) Director: Eugeniusz Bodo;
Ghetto Queen (Krolowa przedmiescia) is very much like other Polish films from the 1930s. It isn't a movie that one should take too seriously, but rather a film that allows one a pause from life and be entertained. Ghetto Queen is both a romance and a comedy, so the serious elements of the story are diluted with the many ridiculous antics that are there to amuse us. And what Polish romance or comedy from the 1930s doesn't have singing throughout the entire story? Certainly not this one!
Ghetto Queen is a movie about a young woman named Manya Dervanski (Helena Grossowna) that captures the attention of the men that glance at her. There are two local guys that are both crazy in love with her, but she isn't interested. They are both on the goofy side so who can blame her. But after accidentally spilling a tray of beers on a wealthy young man, he becomes smitten by her too. There is also an older man who has the idea of marrying her, so there are four men in all that chase her. Although she falls for the rich guy because he is the most charming, the class differences are like a wall between them so it isn't a romance without troubles.
Eugeniusz Bodo is a name that is well known to those who love 1930s Polish cinema, as he stared in two-dozen movies in the 1930s. In addition to acting, Bodo also directed two movies - with Ghetto Queen being one of them. Although by no means is Ghetto Queen one of the best Polish films of the decade, it is an amusing story that takes us away into a world filled with drama. There is excitement in seeing the plot unfold and take us to unexpected places -- while making us laugh as well.
Landowner (Ordynat Michorowski)(1937) Director: Henryk Szaro;
I consider Henryk Szaro to be among the best directors of Polish cinema during the prewar era. His life was cut short in 1942 when the Germans shot him, but Polish cinema as it existed before the war also died when the war erupted. Almost no one that worked in film had a place in cinema once Poland was under Soviet occupation, so it is unlikely Szaro would have ever made films again like the ones made before the war.
Although I do not consider Landowner (Ordynat Michorowski) to be one of Henryk Szaro's best films, it is a drama worth watching for those who enjoy prewar Polish movies. As with many films from the 1930s the characters are Counts, Dukes and Baronesses, which are not really your typical people by any means.
Ordynat Michorowski (1937) is the sequel to Tredowata (1936), with Franciszek Brodniewicz again playing the role of Duke Waldemar Michorowski. Waldemar is very depressed and is always thinking of his deceased fiancé Stefcia Rudecka. The only person that can bring him out of his sullenness is his cousin Lucia Elzonowska (Tamara Wiszniewska). In a delirious state, Waldemar proclaims his love to Lucia (thinking she is Stefcia). Lucia is quite thrilled by his proclamation, as she had feelings for him all along. Now that she knows of his love, she realizes how much she loves him.
But the drama is much more complicated than that. Waldemar's friend Bohdan (Wojciech Wojtecki) is in love with Lucia. Furthermore, another Count wants to marry Lucia for her family fortune. So between a man she loves but doesn't love her back, a man that loves her but she doesn't know it, and a man that loves her money, we have quite a drama. I can only say this movie has some surprises, but you will have to see for yourself the way the story ends.
The Border (Granica)(1938) Director: Joseph Lejtes;
Polish cinema in the 1930's had a sense of decency in which all the films did not have any vulgarity, nudity or grossness. Although these movies were appropriate for all ages, that is not to say they didn't touch on topics that would be considered scandalous even today. Take for instance the movie Granica (The Border), based on the novel by Zofia Nalkowska, which deals with a very dramatic and troubling issue that has a timeless quality. Although Joseph Lejtes directed this film in 1938 (there is also a 1978 remake directed by Jan Rybkowski), the events in the story seems more like a soap opera we saw on TV last week.
The story begins with Zenon Ziembiewicz (Jerzy Pichelski) returning home from his studies in Paris, looking forward to settling down. He quickly spots Elzbieta (Elzbieta Barszczewska), his love interest from the past. Elzbieta is very eager of his advances so it isn't much of a challenge capturing her heart. But the real problems start when Zenon returns to his family manor in the country. His flirting with a country girl named Justyna (Lena Zelichowska) gets out of hand and she falls in love with him. Zenon isn't doing himself any good when he leads them both on. He comes from a well-off family, but knows the best way to grow his wealth is to marry rich, so makes his choice for a wife easy - Elzbieta.
Although the story doesn't conclude with him choosing his bride and living happily ever after, as Justyna is very connected to Zenon's family so he isn't let off the hook easily. Zenon even makes a remark about others doing worse things more often and seemingly being unaffected by it. Zenon isn't so lucky, as his actions result in everyone suffering dearly.
The entire story is filled with twists and surprises. Although there are a lot of ways to interpret the events, it isn't too difficult to see this as a morality story. Doing harm to others, even in a simple way of leading someone on and being unfaithful, causes not only problems for those who were abused, but also for the one who committed the act.
Signals (Sygnaly)(1938) Director: Joseph Lejtes;
Signals (Sygnaly) is a drama/romance about a professional diamond thief named Marta Wronska. Although she wants out of the business, her handler boyfriend pushes her into another heist. Their next prey is an elderly couple with a world famous diamond necklace. They head off to Casablanca with high hopes in pulling off another robbery.
With some ingenuity, the diamonds are stolen and Martha heads back to Poland by ship. But before it makes it back, the ship has problems and begins to sink. Hiding the diamonds in one of her stockings, Marta prepares for disaster by strapping on a life preserver just in time. Marta pleads to God that she will change her life while a chaotic and frantic mob of passengers panic near her. Marta's prayers are answered, as this film is also a story about redemption.
Floating in the sea, Marta is saved by a man that works at a lighthouse. Piotr is the only person stationed at the lighthouse on a small island. Ironically the name of the ship, Fortuna, is written on the life preserver. Although the ship wasn't lucky, Marta is as the life preserver saved her life and it contains a fortune in diamonds. So the life preserver is connected to both of its meanings (luck and fortune).
The next part of the movie is my favorite. As Marta and Piotr get to know each other, there is a lot of chemistry between them. However, Marta turns on her savior once Piotr figure out who she is. But Piotr doesn't get intimidated easily, so it doesn't take long before he takes control. Piotr shows Marta the way to live a good life by example, which is exactly what she needs. Above all, the story has an underlining message that one can change for the better. The drama and unpredictable story really work well in keeping the viewer entranced.
Captive Women (Kobiety nad Przepascia)(1938) Directors: Emil Chaberski, Michal Waszynski;
Captive Women (Kobiety nad Przepascia) is a shocking story about white slavery. The topic is alarming, but it also one that audiences find captivating. White slavery was a popular topic in the early 1900s around the world in both books and films. Captive Women, directed by Emil Chaberski and Michal Waszynski, was made in 1938 and is also based on a novel by Antoni Marczynski. The moral of the story serves to alarm women so that they may be cautious of this potential threat. The story is startling, although such events happened then and now.
The main storyline has to do with a woman named Marysia that gets a letter from her sister. Marysia doesn’t know that the slave traders re-wrote the letter from her sister who is held captive in Brazil. The forged note says she is doing well and to join her in America. Marusia leaves behind her life in Poland thinking her new one will be better, but her true fate is far worse.
We also get to know the seedy ring that is behind the human trafficking. The network uses the cover of a dance studio to find pretty girls who get "awarded contracts overseas." The slave traders use manipulation to trick the girls into thinking they are getting a job in America, but they end up in a brothel in Brazil.
Just like the other Polish movies from the 1930s, Captive Women isn't crude or vulgar. Although the film delicately handles such a sensitive topic, it does so with much left off-screen. It gives a glimpse of the whorehouse these women get stuck in, much of the details between the scenes are left to our imagination. Although the term "white slave" is used once, there is no mention of them being "sex slaves."
in the future
when I get a chance
Through Hell (Gehenna)(1938) Directors: Michal Waszynski;
Through Hell (Gehenna) is a drama/romance about a family with a secret problem. The story begins with a woman at her deathbed, with her daughter Ania and her husband's brother nearby. She makes Ania's uncle Teodor promise her that he will take care of Ania after she dies. Teodor complies with her wishes, but not in the way Ania's mother intended. The seeds of destruction are present all along, but take some time to come out and show their ugly head.
Through Hell is a psychological in the sense portrait of an over controlling, crazed man. Uncle Teodor is deceitful from the start causing problems for everyone that is connected to him. He is a powerful figure that inspires fear in others, but as he only works to bring others down, his work is always for evil. Ania's cousin Lorka (Ina Benita) humorously calls her uncle a "chimpanzee" as his sideburns and stature resemble one. Uncle Teodor Kosciesza (Boguslaw Samborski) is perfectly cast as Samborski later showed the true colors of his sinister side by collaborating with the Nazis during WWII.
Although the story starts out sad, it really has a whole range of emotions. There are funny parts that will make us laugh, moments of danger that grip us in suspense, and moments of hope that inspire us. Above all, Ania truly has a trying time and goes through hell.
As with many pre-war Polish films, Through Hell doesn't show us the lives of normal folks, but of the very wealthy. Although the affluent may not lack in material things, they are not without their problems and drama. The lavishness mansions are spectacular to view and it may be a bit surprising to see the technology that existed at the time, at least for those who could afford it.
Unwarranted Reasons (Za Winy Niepopelnione)(1938) Directors: Eugeniusz Bodo;
I like it when a story is so intricately woven that all the details bring the story to a higher level. Unwanted Reasons (Za winy niepopelnione) is a love story about one man and two women. Jan Leszczyc (Jerzy Pichelski) is crazy about this woman named Julia, but she only likes to toy with the feelings of guys like it were a game. Having enough of her behavior, Jan heads home to Krakow to spend time with his parents for a while. Shortly, he meets Amelia Holska (Wanda Bartowna) who is helping nurse his injured mother back to health in her free time.
Jan's mother, in a fevered state, asks Amelia and Jan if they love each other and to swear that they will always be together. Going along with her request, they make the pledge, but soon realize they really do have feelings for one another. But what love story is without complication? Julia having enough of her own medicine is now trying to woo Jan back, adding a level of complicatedness. But there is much more - Amelia's father has kept a secret from her that threatens everything, and Jan's parents are also hiding something from him. Let's just say this drama has some interesting surprises that really keeps it exciting.
Unwanted Reasons is the second and last film directed by Eugeniusz Bodo. He also stars in this movie, but was not involved with writing it. World War II brought about unfortunate for Bodo; he was arrested by the NKVD and then starved to death in a Soviet death camp, being declared dead on October 7, 1943. Although the Soviets initially attributed his death to the Germans, in 1991 they finally admitted to what really happened. Long live his memory in the great films of free Poland - the Second Republic of Poland.
Three Hearts (Trzy Serca)(1939) Director: Michal Waszynski;
We have all heard stories about children being switched at birth, but I honestly can't think of many movies that get into this topic. But there are a few out there, such as Michal Waszynski's 1939 film Three Hearts (Trzy Serca). This drama/romance has the moral dilemmas and tragedies that we would expect from the movies Waszynski directed.
As with many Polish films from the 1930s, there is the contrast between the wealthy nobility and those who have to work for a living. With the recent birth of a baby boy at the Tyniecki estate, there is a reason to celebrate, however something sinister soon occurs too. Aleksander Kudro works at the estate as a servant, but when his wife decides to switch their own son with Tyniecki's baby, they become ensnared in a mess with no easy escape. Although her intentions may have initially been good, hoping her son would be able to live the life of a count, she quickly realizes her mistake. If they confess, they fear they will loose their jobs; if they don't say anything, their child will always be a stranger to them. Fearing their story will not be believed if they come clean, they decide to keep quiet about the whole affair.
A few years later, the Tynieckis become the foster parents of a girl named Kasia. As all three children are roughly the same age, they are childhood friends, but the young "count" is quite a snob and is always the spoiled sport. A few years later, the "count" is sent away to boarding school, but always remains in contact with Kasia. On his return, things become very interesting and the story becomes quite suspenseful. How long can such a secret last when they are now adults? I can only say that right up until the final few minutes we are kept on edge wondering how the story will end.
I have to add, I think part of what makes Michal Waszynski's cinema so successful is that many of them are based on great novels. The writer of Trzy Serca, Tadeusz Dolega-Mostowicz, may not be well known for his literature compared to some other Polish authors, although many of his stories have been turned into movies. Among his work that have been turned into films, two of his most famous include Znachor and Kariera Nikosia Dyzmy (both of which have had two different adaptations made).
Things You Don't Talk About (O czym sie nie mowi)(1939) Director: Mieczyslaw Krawicz;
With an attention grabbing title like Things You Don't Talk About (O czym sie nie mowi), you know the story is going to be interesting. The story is a memorizing love story about a man who isn't looking for love, but finds it. The story begins with an old man buying flowers, as he does every day, when he bumps into an old woman wearing the silver locket he gave to the woman he loved so many years ago. From there, we go back twenty-eight years to 1910 to learn what happened.
Krajewski (Mieczyslaw Cybulski) works at a bank and is focused on his job. His coworkers think he is a dreamer and spends too much time reading poetry, as he shows no interest in women. But when he is on a streetcar one night, he meets a woman named Frania (Stanislawa Angel-Engelowna) that changes his life. They quickly become friendly, but there is something mysterious about her. She always has to leave at 10 PM, which raises his concern. Frania has a secret she is keeping from him. She lies about her profession, as he detests "those kind of women."
Although we know from the beginning that things will ultimately not work out between them from the way the movie starts out, we are in suspense to find out what happened and why. It is inescapable that the story is sad, but the chemistry between Krajewski and Frania draws us in. O czym sie nie mowi has a whole range of emotions. It shows the great heights and deep lows love can bring about. To top it off, there is also a lot of great humor in this film to snap us out of the spell the drama creates (it probably made me laugh as much as some comedies).
Mieczyslaw Krawicz direted O czym sie nie mowi in 1939. Polish cinema in the 1930s was much more modest than it is now. Things You Don't Talk About, as the name implies addresses taboo issues, but does it in a way that is very modest.
Rena(1939) Director: Michal Waszynski;
Rena is a drama based on a novel about a love triangle. Rena Laska (Stanislawa Angel-Engelówna) works at a department store and is frequently visited by a customer named Janusz Garda (Mieczyslaw Cybulski). Janusz really likes Rena, but his father isn't sure if she is good for him. Things are even more complicated because Rena's boss also likes her and is harassing her. So she is stuck between potentially loosing her work if she resists her boss too much and loosing her work if her boss finds out that she and Janusz are courting. There is a lot of tension as we wonder what will happen as the story develops. Between the drama and trying to figure out where to story will go, the movie keeps us on our toes, as the story has a few surprises in store for us.
Today, the last name of the leading lady (Laska) is a little amusing as it means "chick" in Polish. So her name would translate to be Rena Chick, which is oddly amusing considering she is the object of desire of two men. Stanislawa only appeared in films from 1938 to 1939, specializing in dramatic roles. She is a memorable actress with eyes that show a lot of emotion, similar to those actresses of an earlier era when films were silent.
Your Polish film collection is not complete without the great films made in the 1930s. Michal Waszynski was a prolific and influential director of Polish films before World War II. Rena is one of four films he made in 1939. Interestingly enough, both Cybulski and Angel-Engelowna also stared in the leading roles of O czym sie nie mowi..., which was made in the same year as Rena. Although I think O czym sie nie mowi... is a more captivating film than Rena, it is difficult to be disappointed by any of Waszynski's work, so don't hesitate seeing any of his films.
Christine's Lie (Klamstwo Krystyny)(1939) Director: Henryk Szaro;
Christine's Lie (Klamstwo Krystyny) is the last film directed by Henryk Szaro. Although essentially Klamstwo Krystyny is a romance, this drama also has a tragic angle that really plays with our emotions. Despite the sad side of the story, there are also a few scenes that are extremely funny, in a black comedy type of way. So we really get to experience a whole range of emotions in this masterpiece.
Krystyna (Elzbieta Barszczewska) is a young, pretty woman that just wants to do well and help her elderly father. Her ambition lands her a job as an assistant at the car dealership, but her boss Klimkiewicz (Boguslaw Samborski) has an ulterior motive in employing her. Krystyna quickly catches the eye of a rich man named Janek Marlecki. Janek and Krystyna quickly fall in love, but the upper-class and working class divide between them doesn't make it easy for it to last. But the real reason why they have trouble is because a man that used to work for Marlecki's father, and now works at the dealership, is very bitter about being fired from his former job for drinking before work. Working at the same place as Krystyna makes it easy for him to spread gossip and lies that doom the relationship. As you can imagine from what I have said so far, there is a lot going on that creates a suspenseful story that holds us until the very end.
This film shows us the last glimpse of the Second Polish Republic. Just three years later after making Klamstwo Krystyny in 1939, Henryk Szaro is murdered by the Germans in Warsaw on August 8, 1942. Just two years later, Boguslaw Samborski plays in the infamous 1941 German propaganda film called Homecoming (Heimkehr). Although the war affected everyone in Poland, some managed to survive, like Elzbieta Barszczewska, who returned to star in only one more film (the TV movie called Rytm serca in 1977) in Soviet occupied Poland.
Tearful Happiness (Przez Lzy do Szczescia)(1939) Director: Jan Fethke;
An issue many people face is if they should seek fortune or fame at the cost of leaving behind someone or something close to them. Is money or an easier life more important than something that is very dear to a person? This issue doesn't have an easy answer, but Tearful Happiness (Przez lzy do szczescia) explores it rather well.
In a small town that is far from the flashy cities, resides Dr. Jan Monkiewicz (Franciszek Brodniewicz). He is a kind man that devotes his time to helping his patients and his children. These are not his biological children, but those whom he has cared for since their birth at the orphanage he runs with the help of a couple others. The many boys and girls that live there love Dr. Monkiewicz like their father.
Life runs on the usual course until they decide to have a play to raise money for the orphanage. A famous actress named Lena Merwinska (Irena Malkiewicz) passes through the town when she is taken in by the looks of the good doctor, which delays her for a while. Being a gracious woman and also looking for an excuse to stay, she volunteers to help their local production. The show is quite a hit with such a star taking the leading role opposite Dr. Monkiewicz; and she smites the doctor as well and he finds love on the stage. The only problem is that they live in different worlds -- she is used to living in Warsaw and he has commitments to all the children of the orphanage. Unquestionably, there is quite a dilemma with what each one should do. It doesn't help it any that Lena is offered a two-year contract to star on stage in America.
I have to say that I am a fan of Polish cinema from the 1930s, so it might not be very surprising that I love this movie. Even with that said, I like how the idea of this story has a timeless aspect. Additionally, for a drama to be a good one it should capture the interest of the viewer and leave him spellbound - which is exactly what Tearful Happiness does for me as the suspense builds to the very last minute. Tearful Happiness is after all a Polish movie, so one really isn't sure if it will end happily or tragically. But I won't say any more on what happens, you will have to see for yourself.
The Untrue Wife (Zona i nie zona)(1939) Director: Emil Chaberski;
The Untrue Wife (Zona i nie Zona) is a melodrama about infidelity directed by Emil Chaberski. The story begins with Zenon reading a letter from his wife Irena that she is leaving him. Irena is going to Paris to be with her lover because she isn't happy with her life and thinks something else will be much better. Zenon is so devastated with his wife's decision that he tries to kill himself. He isn't successful and also has the good fortune of having a kind nurse restore him to his health. Zenon's friend Stanislaw Geist (Boguslaw Samborski) also does his best to help him move on from her rumored affair with a Frenchman named Duval. When Irene returns, things get a little complicated and the emotions run high.
For those who have experienced something similar to the events in this film in their life, this movie is especially meaningful. What happens in this movie is not far from everyday reality, so for those who are wise enough to learn from the mistakes of others without having to experience them, there is a great lesson in this film. Without giving too much away, the fact that tragedy can lead to something better also rings very true to life and shows there is hope despite the heartbreak.
It is remarkable just how much WWII influenced the lives of those in this film. The actor that plays Irena's husband (Stefan Hnydzinski) died just one month into the war at the age of 38. Ingo Sym, the actor that played Duval, was executed on March 7, 1941 for collaborating with the Gestapo. Oddly enough, the jerks of this movie also joined forces in real life. Boguslaw Samborski also helped the Gestapo and even stars in a German propaganda film that set out to make the Poles look evil (and two other Nazi German era films). It is also worth noting just how much the war changed the theme of Polish cinema -- after the war a great deal of films were about the war and what Poland endured. The Untrue Wife was made in 1939 and premiered in 1941.
Final Destination (U Kresu Drogi)(1939) Director: Michal Waszynski;
Final Destination (U Kresu Drogi) is a drama directed by Michal Waszynski. Just like so many pre-war Polish films, the story is about a wealthy family. But the wealthy are not free of problems, as the movie shows.
The main character of this movie is Jan Turwid (Kazimierz Junosza-Stepowski), a nobleman with the ambition of finding the cure for a deadly disease. So while he works in his laboratory, his young wife and daughter are left to amuse themselves. As Jan stays in his lab longer and longer, his family cannot help but notice his absence. When Jan doesn't even come out to eat meals with his family, so he knows he is doing wrong, but his determination in accomplishing something greater drives him on.
Jan's solution to his problem brings about all his troubles. Jan invites his friend and neighbor, Wiktor Lanski (Franciszek Brodniewicz), to spend time with his family and to help make sure his estate is running well. Part of the problem with his solution is the fact that Wiktor was his wife's ex-boyfriend when they were younger. So real or imagined, suspicion that something more is happening grows with time. Although Jan means well with all his actions, his stubbornness and poor communication skills bring him down.
Although it isn't really a happy story, it is an interesting one. The drama brings keeps us on edge as we watch it unfold. The tragic irony in the film provides one with so many things to reflect on. Because the mistakes in the movie are ones that many people make, it is easier to relate to the story despite it being about the affluent. If you enjoy Waszynski's other dramas, Final Destination is one not to miss and will live up to your expectations.