Thursday, July 27, 2017


It's Vienna, 1914, just after the declaration of war. We follow the path of a paper flier, asking for women to do their part in the war effort, blowing down a busy street and landing at the feet of Elsa (Helen Twelvetrees), a lowly prostitute. Wanting to do her patriotic duty, she applies for hospital work, but is told a woman of her character—or lack thereof—isn't wanted. But Capt. Muller sees her and thinks she might do for some potentially dangerous spy work; after all, as he tells her, she is alone and doesn't believe in God, so what does she have to lose? Muller and Major Schmidt assign her to cozy up to (i.e., become the mistress of) Otto (Lew Cody), an Austrian captain who may be a traitor. But the night she starts flirting with Otto, she also runs into (literally, in the street into his carriage) the handsome naval officer Karl (William Bakewell). The next night, she stands Otto up to spend the night with Karl—and the next night, and the next night.  Soon, it gets back to Schmidt that Elsa is shirking her duty and she gets a gentle reminder about whom she's supposed to be sleeping with. Elsa talks Karl into volunteering for submarine duty, clearing the way to get herself back into the arms of Otto, which she does. Can she catch the spy in the act of spying? And if so, can she still win back the man she loves?

This melodrama is notable mostly for an interesting visual style from director Harry Joe Brown, beginning with the unusual opening sequence of the piece of paper in the breeze. A scene at a party features the camera zooming up through a line very scantily-clad dancing women. The accident that brings Elsa and Karl together is poorly staged but most of the film looks good. I've never found Twelvetrees to be a particularly effective actress and she is similarly bland here. Her leading men, especially the very handsome Bakewell (pictured with Twelvetrees), are better, as are C. Henry Gordon and H.B. Warner as the spymasters, and Zasu Pitts lends her comedic talents to the supporting role of Elsa's maid. Though this was produced in the pre-Code era, and the title character's profession is made fairly clear, her path to redemption (love of a good man and/or death) is very much an element of Production Code films. [TCM]

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