Monday, February 27, 2012

Trailer Trash: Doña Zarah

While we're in a '30s mood (not all that uncommon a phenomenon hereabouts, I know), let's stop for a moment and consider that Fab Fräulein, the lady who put the "Fasc[ism]" into Fascinating, the Prima Donna Assoluta of the Axis Screen, Swedish thrush Zarah Leander.  Z-Lo, as I've taken to thinking of her, may have been from Stockholm, but she made a string of pictures in Berlin right through '43, becoming in the process Goebbels's de facto replacement for the One That Got Away, Dietrich. 

This little epic, La Habanera, is from early in her UFA contract, but it's still very much a Nazi picture:  Nordic girl falls for shady Latin; repents in a Tropical Hell (and a helluva mantilla); Latin engineers epidemic, dies; Nordic girl skedaddles back home with heroic German doc's help, reassuringly blond son in tow.

It's all pretty incoherent actually, not least because it's set in Puerto Rico but filmed in the Canaries at the height of the Spanish Civil War, features not even a trace of a Spanish accent, and is graced with costumes the silliness of which would make Marion Davies blush.  Truth to tell, I've not seen the whole thing, but from the above, I think you could engineer a drinking game involving every time Zarah finds a new way to wear spit curls.

After the War, Leander spent the rest of her long career calling herself a "political idiot" who had had no idea what was going on while she filmed and filmed and filmed (and the Deutsche Marks, conveniently deposited directly into her Swedish account, kept rolling in).  Now where have we heard that kind of thing before?  One wonders what, as the years went by, she thought about, for example, the songwriter on this movie who would shortly disappear into the camps, or whether she ever cared that the little boy who Dickie Moored his way through Habanera playing her son died at 17 on the outskirts of Berlin, killed defending the capital that she fled only a year or so earlier (and, apparently, only because her villa got flattened - how inconvenient...).

Zarah's co-stars - Ferdinand Marian, Karl Martell, Julia Serda - may not be terribly familiar today, but one name that flashes by here certainly is.  That spielleitung may be credited to Detlef Sierck, but within a few years young Detlef transformed himself into Douglas Sirk, who applied the lessons he learned from Zarah into his direction of Hollywood ladies for the next thirty years or so, culminating in that greatest of all soap operas, Imitation of Life.  Which, come to think of it, could just as easily been the title for La Habanera...

1 comment:

  1. LOVE HER! And she always makes me think of Nina Hagen.