"Café Electric" (1928)
also known as
"Wenn ein Weib den Web Verliert" ("When a Woman Loses Her Way")

A Sascha-Film Production (Austria)
Directed by Gustav Ucicky
Based on the play "Die Liebesborse"
Released by Sascha Filmindustrie, A.G
German release by Sudfilm, A.G.
Length when released in Germany in 1928 - 2400 meters.

Cast Fritz Alberti, Marlene Dietrich, Anny Coty, Willi Forst, Nina Vanna, Igo Sym, Felix Fischer, Vera Salvotti, Wilhelm Volker, Albert E. Kersten and Dolly Davis.

The story

Our story begins on a busy Berlin street where a well-dressed young man Ferdi (Willi Forst) is strolling along the avenue, and when he stops to light a cigarette in front of a shop, a young woman leaving the shop drops a few packages. Ferdi assists her in picking up her parcels and engages her in a conversation. While strolling with her down the street, Ferdi abruptly snatches the young lady's purse. He eludes the young lady and the people pursuing him by running through a courtyard. Ferdi takes the money out of the purse, discards the purse and leaves in a taxi that was waiting for him.

At that time, Erni Gottlinger (Marlene Dietrich), the daughter of a wealthy contractor, is celebrating in a café with a group of her admirers and her father, Mr. Gottlinger, is entertaining a lady friend in his office at the construction site.

That evening, the notorious Café Electric, a gathering place for the lower elements of society, is crowded with prostitutes and pimps. Among the patrons is Ferdi. Also in the café is Erni who is frolicking with a group of her admirers. Ferdi, ever alert for an easy mark, strolls over to the table and asks her to dance. When the dance is over (The Black Bottom), Ferdi asks to see her again. Erni ignores him, but, before the evening is over, she leaves Ferdi her telephone number.

Also among the regulars that evening at the café is Hansi (Nina Vanna), one of Ferdi's former lovers who, due to dire circumstances, is a prostitute. When Ferdi notices an admirer give Hansi a sum of money, he demands it. When Hansi refuses to give him any money, another former lover of Ferdi's offers him money but he rejects it saying, "It's not much." As Hansi turns away, he lifts her money purse out of her pocket book.

The next evening a bored Ferdi telephones Erni who is about to leave for the theater with Max (Igo Sym) who works for her father as an engineer. Accepting Ferdi's offer, Erni informs Max that she has to visit a sick friend.

Erni leaves for a rendezvous with Ferdi, and Max strolls through the streets of Berlin and stops in at a sidewalk café. A few minutes later, he is joined at his table by Hansi who's looking for a customer, but Max ignores her. Hansi strikes up a conversation by seeking a match for her cigarette. At the same time, Erni is being wined and wooed at the café by Ferdi.

When Max asks to see Hansi again, she nods towards a hotel. He ignores the proposition, and she informs him that she can be found any evening at the Café Electric. They depart, and, in the meantime, Ferdi takes Erni to bed.

In the morning as Erni is dressing, Ferdi tells her that he has to pay a large gambling debt and doesn't have the money. Erni promises to get him the $500. She goes to her father's construction site and asks Max for $500. Max tells her to wait in the office. Erni notices the keys to her father's strong brox on a desk and Max enters the office as Erni is rifling the strong box of money and a ring. Erni refuses to return the stolen goods and tells Max that she needs it for a good cause.

Mr. Gottlinger returns from his business trip with his lady friend the next day and finds that money and his ring are missing from his strong box and the suspicion of theft falls on Max and an office clerk.

The events rush to judgment when Ferdi, back in the Café Electric, makes another play for Hansi and, as a token of his admiration for her, gives her the ring he received from Erni as a token of his affection. On a surprise visit to Ferdi's apartment, Erni notices a woman dressing behind a screen. When Erni starts to make a scene, Ferdi tosses ehr otu of his apartment and tells her he will see her at the Café Electric that evening.

That afternoon Mr. Gottlinger makes an appointment to entertain a business client at the café and, coincidentally, Mr. Gottlinger, Max, Hansi, and two detectives, who are seeking Ferdi and have been informed he will be at the café by a discarded girl friend. As Ferdi arrives with Erni, Mr. Gottlinger notices the stolen ring on Hansi's finger!

Signing Dietrich for the role

"Café Electric" was filmed entirely in Vienna while Dietrich and Willi Forst were appearing in the popular stage hit "Broadway." Dietrich was introduced to Gustav Ucicky who was about to direct Forst in the film "Café Electric." Forst suggested that Ucicky sign Dietrich for a role in the film, but after a few days of shooting, Ucicky changed his mind deciding to choose someone else for the role of Erni. Forst interceded, "If Dietrich goes, then I go." Igo Sym taught Dietrich how to play the musical saw, which she later demonstrated with skill for the American troops during World Was II.

The film's producer, Count Alexander Joseph Kolorat-Krakowsky, was the owner of grandiose places in Vienna and Prague and smaller castles in between. The count was also grandiose, weighing over three hundred fifty pounds. The Count was ill during the shooting, and he screened "Café Electric" in his hospital room. He expressed a wish to gaze upon the legs of Marlene in the flesh, and the legend goes that he got his wish. The Count died soon after the film opened.

The film received favorable reviews. Igo Sym and Ninna Vanna were considered excellent in their roles, Dietrich was thought "quite gifted" and "most provocative." Willi Forst was considered "vital and full of life."

Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich (1904-1992), born Maria Magdalene Dietrich in Germany, a.k.a. Maria Magdalena von Losch and Maria Magdalena Dietrich von Losch. Her father, a Royal Prussian Police lieutenant and her mother, Willhelmina Elisabeth Josephine Dietrich, nee Felsing, was a manufacturer's daughter. At the end of the World War I, her first name was already Marlene, and she began to study the violin in Weimar. In the early 1920's, she supposedly became a student at the Max Reinhardt School. In 1922, she played her first role and had parts in two other plays. In that same year, she made her film debut with a brief role in "Der Kleine Napoleon" followed by a more substantial performance in "Tragodie der Liebe."

In 1923, she married a film casting director, Rudolf Sieber. She had many other brief roles, including an appearance in a G.W. Pabst film. She briefly retired and returned to the stage, but by 1926 she was back on screen in "Manion Lescaut," later followed by Alexander Korda's "Madame Wuenscht Keine Kinder." She was typically cast as a coquettish socialite, and she remained better known as a live performer, enjoying great success singing the main songs of a popular revue "It's In the Air" by Mischa Spoliansky.

She appeared in about 17 silent films, playing leading roles in the final six, before she obtained the lead role in "The Blue Angel." She can still be seen in a few of her silent films including "Manon Lescaunt" (1926), "Café Electric" (1927), "I Kiss Your Hand Madame" (1928), and "The Ship Of Lost Souls" (1929).

According to legend, director Josef von Sternberg claimed to have discovered her appearing in a cabaret and cast her in his 1930 "The Blue Angel." Supposedly, before the picture premiered, von Sternberg offered a rough cut of the film to his American studio, Paramount, who eventually signed her to a long-term contract at a cost of 125,000 dollars per film.

Willi Forst

Willi Forst (1903-1980), sometimes credited as Willy Forst, Willi Forst, or W. Forst, was born in Vienna. During a long career, he was an actor, director, writer and producer. He began his theatrical career in 1919 in operettas and as a stage comedian. He appeared in Austrian silent films in 1920. He gained international recognition in two films by E.A. Dupont, and he was a populr star of the sound cinema when he directed his first film in 1933. His exceptional vocal qualities made him one of the most popular stars of Austrian and German musical comedies. His Viennese films depicted a carefree Viennese dram world set to waltzes, and after the war he was accused of turning a blind eye to the Nazi atrocities. He responded that his films depicted a world that the Nazi regime had erased and that his films were a rebuttal to the condition that Austria was in. To his credit was his refusal to act in Veit Harlan's anti-Semitic "Jud Suss" (194)) for which he incurred Nazi disapproval. Willi Forst made his last films as a director in 1957.

Gustav Ucicky

Gustav Ucicky (1899-1961) was born in Hamburg and had the ability as a cameraman and director to create pictures of intense atmosphere. He was one of the top directors of UFA fom 1929-1936.

He exploited every popular genre from musicals, comedy and historical dramas at UFA and his unvelied nationalism of his early films made him a welcome collaborator on propaganda films. UFA's first gift to the new regime was a film entitled "Dawn" which was directed by Ucicky. It was shown at the Ufa-Palast in Zoo on Feb. 2, 1933, three days after Adolph Hitler had assumed power. The film's general message was, "We Germans may not know how to live, but we have a real talent for dying." The film was a brooding, violent mysticism of death and touched on a basic element of National Socialist pyschology.

Ucicky made many propaganda films for the Nazi party until 1941, and having "fulfilled his duty," he was released from UFA headquarters and returned to Vienna where he produced less offensive melodramas beginning in 1942. After the war, he continued producing films, specializing in literary adaptations. He died during the preparation of his last film in 1961.

Sascha-Film Company

The first moving pictures shown in Austria were shown in Vienna in 1896 by the Lumiere brothers, but it wasn't until 1908 that the first Austrian feature film was shown. It was produced by Anton Kolm, who set up the city's first studio in 1911 and most of his films were biopics of the life of Vienna's waltz king, Johann Straus.

His competition was the American born, wealthy playboy, pilot and automobile pioneer Count Alexander Kolowsky (1886-1927) who established his studios in Vienna in 1912. He spent a fortune on his influential Sasch-Film Company. Among the directors working for him was Alexander Korda and Gustav Ucicky who began as a cameraman and Mihaly Kertesz who became better known in Hollywood as Michael Curtiz. The Count gave screen tests to any attractive woman he met, and one of his discoveries was Anny Ondra. In the 1920's, in an attempt to enter the world market, he produced a series of the most expensive films produced in Austria. Productions were scaled back towards the end of the 1920's due to economic conditions, although Ucicky still had success with "Café Electric."


Encyclopedia of European Cinema by Ginette Vincendeau

UFA by Klaus Kriemer

Marlene Dietrich by Homer Dickens

copyright 2002 by John DeBartolo. All rights reserved.

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