Mary – 1931 – British International Pictures/Sud-Film – ★★
B&W – 82 minutes – 1.33:1 aspect ratio
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Principal cast: Alfred Abel (Sir John Menier), Olga Tschechowa (Mary Baring), Paul Graetz (Bobby Brown), Lotte Stein (Bebe Brown), Ekkehard Arendt (Handel Fane), Miles Mander (Gordon Moore).
Screenplay by Herbert Juttke and Georg C. Klaren, from a scenario by Alma Reville, based on the novel Enter Sir John by Clemence Dane and Helen Simpson.
Cinematography by Jack Cox.
In the early days of sound films many studios shot multiple versions of the same film in different languages, with different casts, utilizing the same sets. This was most famously done by Universal Pictures, which shot the English language Dracula with Bela Lugosi by day, and a Spanish language version at night on the same sets. Fox shot 5 different language versions of The Big Trail. This practice did not last long, because film dubbing became a common practice just a few years into the sound era. But it did last long enough to produce this oddity in the Hitchcock canon, a German-language version of Murder!
For those interested in plotting and film technique, please refer to my review of Murder! Here I will just provide a brief breakdown of major differences between the two films. Mary is twenty minutes shorter than its English counterpart, so clearly it is not a shot-for-shot remake. So what is different? Most scenes are intact, although many exist in an abbreviated form. The jury deliberation sequence, which occupies a larger portion of the English language film, is shortened here. Also shortened is the scene with the children and kitten in the boarding room. Hitchcock did discuss with Truffaut that he had a basic understanding of the German language from his time working in Germany, but did not fully grasp the idiom. The result is that much of the charm and humor of Murder! is absent in this version.
Another difference between the two films is the secret for which Handel Fane committed murder. In the English language film, he is a half-caste, which is both a commentary on the racism of the times and arguably symbolic of his sexual identity. Fane’s secret is much more cliched in the German film; he is an escaped convict on the run.
Hitchcock did retain the most technically challenging scene in both films, which is the protagonist’s interior monologue as he is shaving. Although in Mary he has the monologue occur after Sir John has had a conversation with his assistant in the other room. It would be very interesting to hear Hitchcock discuss his motivation for this and other subtle changes in the film’s structure.
In a couple of montage sequences, Hitchcock was able to use the same footage for both versions. For instance the opening shot of the film, which I believe is a model shot, is identical in both films, as is the shot of the black cat slinking down the street.
The montage of images at the very end of the film, after Handel Fane leaps to his death, also uses many of the same images, including a memorable clown’s face and a restless horse.
Performance: It is difficult to gauge the performances in this film without comparing it to its English counterpart. Perhaps that is unfair; the screenplays differ in many subtle ways, and the tone is quite different. Alfred Abel is certainly adequate as Sir John, but he lacks the warmth and charm of Herbert Marshall. Separating the two films, I can say that the performances in Mary are well-suited to the more serious tone of this version of the film. That being said, there is no truly engaging performance to be found for this viewer.
Recurring players: There are actually two actors that played the same role in both versions of the film: Miles Mander as Gordon, and Esme V. Chaplin as the prosecuting counsel.
Where’s Hitch? Hitchcock did not shoot a cameo for Mary, despite doing so for the English-language version.
Definitive edition: Mary is included as a bonus feature on the Kino Lorber blu ray for Murder! released in 2019. The German film is not nearly as clean a print as its English counterpart, but it is watchable.