Movies I Need To See Before I Die: THE DOLL (1919)


(This is a column where I review movies that I have never seen, but SHOULD have.  Being a film Geek, I have seen a ton of films.  But life is also very short, and for one reason or another, there are quite a few flicks that I have never got to.  Sure, it probably doesn’t matter if I ever see a movie like PARENTAL GUIDANCE, but a movie like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA…. well, I should have seen that already.  I’m a film geek for God’s sake!  I have now decided that I should get on that before I get too old.  I have compiled a list of films that I WANT or NEED to watch, and am going to start watching them when I have spare time.  So I will randomly be posting reviews of movies that I have always wanted or needed to see.  Enjoy!)

I haven’t seen too many films of the legendary Ernst Lubitsch. Actually, I’ve only seen one: TO BE OR NOT TO BE from 1942.  And I was kind of let down by that one, though I know that our own Film Geek Central’s Scott Davis loves it.  Anyway, Lubitsch has been making films long before his most known works like NINOTCHKA and HEAVEN CAN WAIT.  Looking at his filmography, I’ve always been curious about his early silent work.  The one that looked the most peculiar was this silent from 1919, called THE DOLL.

This whimsical little tale is about a young man named Lancelot, who is about to inherit a large amount of money from his dying uncle. The catch is, he must marry.  Well, Lancelot doesn’t want to get married at all.  In fact, he seems afraid of girls.  After being chased by 40 women across town, he ends up at a Monastery.  These greedy bastards hear about his inheritance and decide to use him.  They convince him to give them the money once he gets it.  All he has to do is go to a toymaker (named Hilarius) to make him a life-size doll that moves at the push of a button.  But before he buys the doll, Hilarius’ assistant breaks the arms off of the doll.  The assistant is so afraid as to what his master would do to him, that he attempts suicide.  Hilarius’ daughter Ossi stops his assistant and offers to pretend to be the doll until it can be fixed.  Of course, Lancelot ends up buying Ossi instead, which sets up a series of funny gags.

It’s a sweet little story.  I liked the way it begins, with a model maker building a miniature set and then proceeds to place 2 little figures down in it.  It then fades into the set, and the figures become the characters in the story.  That was cool, and a nice way of telling the audience that this is a fairy tale of sorts.  The sets are obviously fake, and that’s what’s so neat to look at.  The sun is an obvious drawing as is the smiling man in the moon.  Every character has an exaggerated look to them, which adds to the oddness.

There are some funny gags throughout.  Whether it’s broad slapstick like when Lancelot falls into a pond, or subtle humor like when Ossi steals Lancelot’s food and she only chews it when he’s looking away, and then immediately stops when he glances back at her (she doesn’t want to give herself away now, does she?).  It’s moments like those that make THE DOLL something special.  I also really liked it when Hilarius got so mad that his hair turns gray right in front of our eyes (using stop-motion).

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough of this inspired comedy.  There’s probably about 10 inspiring moments throughout.  There were too many dead spots that could have been trimmed, and since the movie is only 63 minute, that’s not good.  It’s never a “bad” movie, but it does get dull on occasion.  Shots are held too long at times, which drains the momentum the film had at the time.  Also, I didn’t like the idea of the monks being the driving force of the plot.  And the ending comes along much too quickly.  The realization at the end (not really a spoiler in my opinion) when Lancelot finds out Ossi is human happens in a split second, and was very hard to swallow.

I did like the performances from everyone, especially Ossi (played by Ossi Oswalda)  She’s beautiful and has wonderful comic timing.  I love it when she sticks out her tongue.  Man, she makes the cutest faces.  The direction is a little flat in parts, which kind of drag the movie down.  But the story is definitely imaginative and when the movie is good, it’s pure magic.  When it’s not, it’s dull.  I wanted this movie to be better than it was, but in the end I was mildly disappointed.  Is it worth checking out?  Well, it’s got its moments, and if you are curious about silent cinema, you might want to see some of the inspired comic bits.  You may possibly find it being worthwhile.  I can’t fully recommend it, but it does have some neat things going for it.   ★★½ (out of ★★★★)

– Not Rated: probably should be rated G, but has some mild innuendo that may give it a PG.

– Running time: 1hr 3min.

(THE DOLL is currently streaming on Netflix)


Categories: Austin Kennedy, Movies I Need To See Before I Die, Reviews

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