Labyrinth der Leidenschaften (1959)

WG, Italy / 95 minutes / bw / Universum, CEI, UFA-Filmverleih Dir: Rolf Thiele Pr: Walter Tjaden Scr: Gregor von Rezzori, Rolf Thiele Story: Our Hearts are Restless (1955) by Gladys Baker Cine: Klaus von Rautenfeld Cast: Nadja Tiller, Peter van Eyck, Amedeo Nazzari, Nicole Badal, Hanne Wieder, Elisabeth Flickenschildt, Ina Duscha, Benno Hoffman, Matteo Spinola, Piera Arico, Eduard Linkers, Anna Maria Lussi, Ljuba Welitsch.

Labyrinth - 0 mood opener

A fascinating psychological drama. Until a few years ago, Georgia Gale (Tiller) was a poet of great renown, but then she stopped writing and started drinking heavily. Now, as a desperate last resort, she has traveled to Switzerland, to the Sanatorium de Lattre, where she hopes to find a cure at the hands of the famous Professor De Lattre (Nazzari).

Labyrinth - 2 the petulant Georgia

The petulant Georgia (Nadja Tiller).

Almost as soon as she has arrived she’s rebelling against the regulations, not least that booze is—for somewhat obvious reasons—forbidden. Her fellow patients are a mixed bag, some—like the shallow millionaire Ron Stevens (van Eyck)—being recovering alcoholics like herself, others being “neurotics” who supposedly respond to the therapeutic regimes of Dr. Beckmeyer (Hoffman), the clinic’s resident “professor of psychogymnastics”; the therapy appears to involve frolicking around the countryside, leaping and gesticulating like, well, loonies. Other patients of note include Marjorie (Badal), a suicidal nymphomaniac, and her lover Armand (Spinola), who seems to have little wrong with him except his pathetic dependance on Marjorie. Another is Ljubas (Welitsch), who seems to fancy herself as a Wagnerian-style opera singer; in one of the funniest of the movie’s few comic set-pieces, as she sings in a glade the birds seem to respond in a delightful parody of the equivalent scene in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). And Marjorie chides her: “You know how I hate songs in E-flat major!”

Labyrinth - 3 Marjorie & Georgia size each other up

Marjorie (Nicole Badal) and Georgia (Nadja Tiller) size each other up.

Some of the staff seem little less eccentric than their charges. Both de Lattre and Beckmeyer happily whack back the brandy when the patients aren’t watching; the effect of their fumy breath on therapy sessions with the alcoholics can only be imagined. De Lattre sometimes seems as if his true vocation is art rather than psychiatry; he fondles a catalog from the Gemäldegalerie as if it were a lover’s cheek. Beckmeyer has an exhibitionist streak. The housekeeper, Frau Gretzer (Flickenschildt), seems to have stumbled onto the lot from one of the lesser Frankenstein or Dracula sequels. Although one of the nurses, Michèle (Lussi), appears normal enough, it emerges that the other, Juliette (Duscha), suffers a pronounced moralistic sexual repression.

Labyrinth - 4 Housekeeper and Ron

The sinister housekeeper Frau Gretzer (Elisabeth Flickenschildt) and amorous inmate Ron Stevens (Peter van Eyck).

Ron takes an immediate romantic shine to Georgia, and she responds insofar as, with his car, he might offer her an avenue to getting her hands on some hooch. When the pair of them go out for a day-long driving excursion, however, they manage to stay dry, and on their return Georgia whispers to him: “I’ll leave the door open.” It’s a promise out of which she fearfully backs at the last moment; when he returns to his own room he finds a naked Marjorie waiting in his bed, and the movie leaves it open as to whether he seizes the opportunity or simply ejects her. To judge by his portrayed shallowness, we guess that, despite his professed great love for Georgia, he opts for the former.

Labyrinth - 5 only just sisterly (Georgia & Marjorie)

An only just sisterly kiss between Georgia (Nadja Tiller) and Marjorie (Nicole Badal).

Later Georgia throws a tantrum and demands that de Lattre take her to the nearby Jacques’s Bistro so that she can get smashed. Even though it’s the middle of the night, Jacques (Linkers)—who apparently goes to bed in his barman’s apron—agrees to serve them, and it’s while Georgia is wrapping herself around a good deal of whiskey that de Lattre starts to open her up. Her official story has always been that her drinking started with the suicide of the critic Harry Lawton, who was the one who launched her brilliant career and later became her lover; in reality, Lawton wanted to become her lover but, finding her sexually unresponsive and incapable of love—indeed, that it was precisely because she channeled her sexual frustration into her poetry that it was so fine—turned vindictively against her. Believing his critical abuse, she turned to drink . . .

Labyrinth - 1 noirish cinemat (de Lattre)

The famous Professor De Lattre (Amedeo Nazzari).

Not wanting to hear more of this analysis, Georgia staggers off into the night and gatecrashes what must be an extremely early matins at the Convent of the Sisters of Charity. By the time she sobers up she’s halfway convinced herself that she’d like to become a nun, but Sister Martha (Wieder, in a wonderfully effective and appealing performance), the Mother Superior, rejects her appeal to be taken in by the order: she explains that she herself underwent far greater degradations of soul, including drug addiction, before finding God; Georgia is merely grasping at God as one might at a straw.

Labyrinth - 8 Don tells Sis Martha he plans marry Georgia

Ron (Peter van Eyck) tells Sister Martha (Hanne Wieder) he plans marry Georgia.

Back at the clinic, Georgia is in bed when Marjorie attempts to seduce her. Georgia explains the hopelessness of this: “You can’t really love, so you love everyone. I can’t really love, either, so I don’t love anybody.” Purloining her nail scissors, Marjorie manages to kill herself; it’s this sudden confrontation with death that finally effects the cure that Georgia has been seeking. As de Lattre earlier said, “In cases like [Marjorie’s] we come with empty hands, for love and death are both manifestations of the same desire.”

Whether or not it’s good psychiatry—whether or not it’s even good cinema—this is certainly a movie with aspirations. These are reflected not just in the screenplay, which assumes the audience is mature enough to follow extended conversations about sometimes abstract matters, but in von Rautenfeld’s cinematography (which brought him a Bundesfilmpreis/German Film Award; Tiller won another as Best Actress). This uses various devices—such as dropping into silhouette or even negative—to symbolize the alienation of Georgia’s perception, and her mental distortions as her body tries to adapt to the lack of alcohol. One of the most spectacular of these visual effects (for which Theo Nischwitz is credited) occurs when Ron and Georgia are out driving: as they approach an apartment block its frontage seems to peel apart to either side like a zipper.

Labyrinth - 6 the splitting apartment block

The unzipping apartment block.

The soundtrack, done by Hans-Martin Majewski, is worth note as well: it’s very playful, using plenty of unorthodox instruments and (presumably) sons trouvés. Sometimes it’s perhaps too playful; there are moments when we’re not sure if we’re supposed to be reacting to it with a grin. Even so, like much else in the movie, it has to be respected for its willingness to be adventuresome.

Nadja Tiller studied as an actress but first made her mark as a beauty queen; she was Miss Austria 1949. Her first movie role was in Märchen vom Glück (1949; vt Kiss Me Casanova); her first of note came with Kleiner Schwindel am Wolfgangsee (1949). Das Mädchen Rosemarie (1958; vt Rosemary) brought her to international attention, and it was still in the glow of that spotlight that she made Labyrinth. Other movies with a noirish connection in which she played include

  • Le DÉSORDRE ET LA NUIT (1958; vt The Night Affair)
  • DU RIFIFI CHEZ LES FEMMES (1959; vt Riff Raff Girls)
  • L‘AFFAIRE NINA B. (1961)
  • DU RIFIFI À PANAME (1966; vt The Upper Hand)
  • BLONDE KÖDER FÜR DEN MÖRDER (1970; vt Death Knocks Twice; vt The Blonde Connection; vt La Morte Bussa due Volte)
  • JEUNE FILLE LIBRE LE SOIR (1975; vt Wanted: Babysitter; vt Scar Tissue; vt Babysitter—Un Maledetto Pasticcio; vt La Baby-Sitter)



On Labyrinth

3 thoughts on “Labyrinth der Leidenschaften (1959)

  1. Wow, this is quite the glowing review! Not only have I not seen it, but am not familiar with it. This is lamentable in view of your high praise. Great work in unearthing this! Your excellent review expresses quite an appreciation for the film’s audaciousness.

    • Thanks as always for the kind words, Sam!

      I don’t know that my reviewing is quite so glowing as all that! As I say, I’m not at all sure this is a good movie, but it does definitely have ambitions (which I admire in any movie) and there are all sorts of enjoyable elements. Personally, I’m very glad I watched it, but I could understand others dismissing it as a piece of mediocrity.

  2. Pingback: Chambre Ardente, La (1962) | Noirish

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