From Morning to Midnight (1920)
Dir.: Karl Heinz Martin
Cast: Ernst Deutsch, Roma Bahn, Erna Morena, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski
Germany 1920, 73 min. (Silent, with German intertitles)
The film historian Rudolf Kurtz believed that From Morning to Midnight was “not only one of the earliest German expressionistic films, but also its most stringent”. Based on the popular play by Georg Kaiser, From Morning to Midnight had it’s premiere in the spring of 1920 in Berlin – unfortunately for Martin’s film, it coincided with Robert Wiene’s Dr. Caligiari, which had his debut in February of that year. Outside Berlin, the film was rarely shown, even Siegfried Kracauer missed it, mentioning it only in a few lines in his seminal work ‘From Caligari to Hitler”. Strangely enough, From Morning to Midnight was a great success in Japan, where the film was shown in 1922; finally, it had his first official German screening in 1963 in East Berlin’s cinema ‘Camera’.
Set, as the title suggests, in roughly 24 hours, From Morning tells the story of a bank cashier (Deutsch), who abruptly decides to revolt one morning at work. He sees a foreign woman (Bahn) who wants to buy a painting for her son, but the bank manager refuses to give her money, for lack of funds. The cashier is fascinated by her, she represents everything he has dreamt of. He steals an enormous amount (close to one million £ in today’s money) and offers it to the woman, on condition that she elopes with him. But she rejects him and he runs away, meeting again the beggar girl (Bahn) he saw first in the bank; she looks to him like death. At home, his family is only too happy to welcome him, but he soon runs away again, this time from the police. Making his way to the big city, he buys an expensive suit and a top hat. He then visits a bicycle race (Six-day race), where he becomes an object of interest until a member of the royal family appears. In a night club, he attempts to get off with two girls, but one throws a glass of champagne at him, the other (Bahn) has a wooden leg and, again, looks like Death to him. A stranger then takes him off to a club where he wins at cards, but a man tries to kill him, and a Salvation Army girl (Bahn) saves him. She again looks like Death to him, and he confesses the theft of the money. The girl seems to like him, but when he tells her that there is a huge reward for his capture, she runs to the police. When the police catch up with him, he kills himself.
Roma Bahn, incidentally, starred in the role of the mother in the film Des Journées dans les Arbres, based on the play by Marguerite Duras in 1968. The production designer Robert Neppach designed all the costumes, sets and landscapes in contrasting black and white, their forms were typically impressionistic with their skewed-spotted excesses and jagged lines. Most of the female characters are played by the same actress (Bahn)who symbolises the cashiers unfilled dreams and his death: he hunts and is hunted; trying to find something to sooth his soul, but he only stumbles over objects and superficial self-glorification, in the end, the nightmare culminates with his Browning, having lost his eternal soul for good.
Much more than Caligari, From Morning to Midnight is a clear forerunner of the ‘Street Films’ which would go on to dominate the first half of the 1920s in German cinemas, made popular by’ Karl Grune (Die Strasse), where the bourgeois hero breaks out to try to find passionate love with prostitutes before, more often than not, returning to the fold. AS
FROM MORNING TO MIDNIGHT IS ON RELEASE AT THE BARBICAN in FEBRUARY 2016