Monday, 11 January 2016

Secret Lives (1937)
Brigitte Horney
When you are a seasoned consumer of old films, it’s always refreshing to be pleasantly surprised by a film about which you have no expectations. And in ‘Secret Lives’ I have found one of those films. Set in France during the First World War, it’s the story of a young German woman, Lena Schmidt, (Brigitte Horney) who is first interned by the French and then forced to spy for them. I’m not going to give away any of the plot, but it is quite beautifully photographed and the director, Edmond Greville, certainly has a love of shadows and knows how to use them.
Brigitte Horney
It would appear that Greville also had a love of something else: ladies’ legs. We realise that Lena has to sleep with German agents in order to extract information when we are treated to the sight of her bare legs as she smokes an implicitly post-coital cigarette:
Then later the audience is treated to a lingering shot that rises from the floor to her stocking tops as she performs a seductive night club routine:


And when she leaves the bar to go upstairs, the audience gets another view of her legs, just in case we'd forgotten them:

Her husky half-spoken/half-sung vocal performance, revealing skirt and blonde hair ...

Brigitte Horney
... are a definite nod to Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel …
… but back to legs.

My evidence that the director took a keen interest in legs beyond what we see on screen here? Let’s have a look at his next film, 1937’s ‘Brief Ecstasy’. In that film, romance is launched when Hugh Williams spills his coffee over Linden Travers, promoting a close up of her legs as he dabs away with his napkin:
Later she takes an altogether unnecessary trip up a library ladder simply for the director’s gratification:
And finally, Greville unleashes his trademark shot: as Travers leans over a billiard table to play a shot, the camera pans from foot to waist. He pretends to tell us that its Williams who is staring at her legs, but we know the truth:

And somehow, I managed to get through the entire review of the director’s interest in legs without mentioning that the lead actress was Ms. Horney …
Brigitte Horney


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