Live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla
1919, 64 minutes, black and white, DCP | Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Long before becoming a fixture in the Hollywood pantheon, Berliner Ernst Lubitsch made his name in Germany with ambitious, comedic epics and rollicking fantasies such as this one. An adaptation of an A. E. Willner operetta (itself based on an E. T. A. Hoffmann story), The Doll opens with a prologue in which a young Lubitsch arranges a miniature landscape that comes magically to life with real actors. Hermann Thimig plays the ironically named Lancelot, a spoiled, weakling heir who flees to a monastery to avoid the betrothal ordered by his baron uncle. Word gets out that Lancelot will inherit a sizable dowry upon marriage, so the monks and Lancelot connive to wed him to a lifelike mechanical doll and split the kitty. But when the doll breaks down before Lancelot takes possession of it, its flesh-and-blood muse (Ossi Oswalda) decides to take its place as a goof. Silent Lubitsch is visually dazzling and silent German Lubitsch is a feat of total imagination, as shown in this lighthearted farce that is festooned with surrealist touches, boldly artificial sets and devil-may-care charm.