I am a Camera (1955)
Director: Henry Cornelius.
Starring: Julie Harris (Sally Bowles), Laurence Harvey (Christopher Isherwood), Shelley Winters (Natalia Landauer), Ron Randell (Clive), Lea Seidl (Fräulein Schneider), Anton Diffring (Fritz Wendel), Ina De La Haye (Herr Landauer), Jean Gargoet (Pierre), Stanley Maxted (Editor), Alexis Bobrinskoy (Proprietor, Troika), André Mikhelson (Head Waiter, Troika), Frederick Valk (Doctor), Tutte Lemkow (Electro-Therapist ), Patrick McGoohan (Swedish Water Therapist), Julia Arnall (Model).
precursor to the Movie "Cabaret"
Christopher Isherwood walks down the street. He says he is a novelist who is comfortably well off, set in his ways and a confirmed bachelor. He gets invited by his publisher to a lot of literary cocktail parties. He sums the situation up by saying: "The more worthless the book, the more they need noise and alcohol to launch it." This time the cocktail party is for Sally Bowle's The Lady Goes on Hoping. And Christopher tells some authors that he actually knows this Sally Bowles.
Flashback. Christopher says he was struggling on his first book. He was broke. His only asset was knowing the German language, so he traveled to Berlin. The year was 1931. He was making no real progress on his book. Two years before the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, Berlin was a dreary place. There were Nazis hanging out on corners causing trouble. A group of Nazis trip a serious looking gentleman, who falls on the street. Christopher would tell himself: "I am a camera." He watches life, quite detached from it.
A friend of Christopher, named Fritz, wants to take Christopher out to someplace "interesting". Christopher goes to a bar with his friend. The singer is Sally Bowles and the friend thinks she's just awesome. Sally is talking about going back to Paris and he intends to go with her.
Sally comes over to the table and meets Christopher. She says that she is leaving tonight for Paris with a customer known as Pierre, her fiancé. She soon goes over to sit with Pierre. Christopher watches and listens to their conversation. They were arguing about something and Christopher started to feel sorry for Sally. He sees Pierre snatch money from Sally's hand and then take off. Christopher wants Fritz and him to go sit and talk with Sally, but now his friend wants to ;eave. They leave and Sally seems sad about that. Again, Christopher feels sorry for her and goes back to sit with her. His friend leaves.
Christopher can see through Sally's bravado, saying that he is very naive and defenseless against the night world of Berlin. Sally has been stood-up and has no money or place to stay. So Christopher invites her to stay with him. He assures her that he won't try anything with her as he is too busy writing his first book to start up a relationship with a woman. Talking with Sally, Christopher learns that Pierre is not her fiancé. She seems willing to go to bed with Christopher, but he is not interested.
Fritz shows up in the morning. He assumes some love-making took place last night, but Christopher tells him that absolutely nothing happened between him and Sally. And he wants Sally out of the room, because he has his student coming in this morning for her lesson. The young woman's name is Natalia Landauer.
Natalia tells Christopher that she can't have a lesson today, because they are having an important meeting about the so many unemployed men in Berlin. And her family is having problems with the Nazis. They have started a campaign that all the department stores are owned by Jews.
Fritz now takes an interest in Natalia and goes with her to the meeting about the unemployment issue. Sally leaves a little later. Christopher is going to move into the apartment across from where he lives now and let Sally have his old apartment. Sally is very excited about being friends with Christopher.
Walking down the street, Christopher bumps into Natalia and Fritz who are still together. Natalia explains that she can't take any more lessons from Christopher for her father is sending the family up into the mountains. And Fritz is invited along.
Christopher is disgusted with what little he has written and tears it up. At nightly dinner, Sally tries to encourage Christopher not to give up hope, but Christopher is in a very dark mood and is not very friendly. The two kiss and then Chris gets excited and goes full throttle. Sally has to use all her might to pull away from him. She says Chris would have hated her, if they had sex. "We'd never be able to talk to each other again." Like Chris actually knows, she's a lot of bravado. She says: "I know I talk like a fool very often, but . . ." Chris relents. He says it's alright and he's going to bed. She gives him another kiss before he goes into his apartment.
When spring rolls around, Chris starts feeling better. He and Sally have been invited to the Landauers for lunch. Fritz comes by limousine to pick them up. All this wealth goes to Sally's head and she acts a little giddy. After the lunch, the two couples dance. Sally decides that she and Chris will leave early because she wants to give Fritz some alone time with Natalia.
Sally is still giddy from all the wealth she has seen and now she wants to go into a restaurant and have a champagne cocktail. Chris reminds her that their only funds are the rent money Chris has been holding onto. Sally desperately wants to go in and promises they will only have one champagne cocktail each. The problem is that Sally does not stop at one drink. And nor does she pass up the caviar she sees on a cart. She completely ignores Christopher's pleas for moderation.
She goes on to buy cigarettes and a teddy bear from the cigarette girl. Now Chris really gets mad at her. He even says that her much self-vaunted sex appeal is inadequate to get them out of this situation. She says her sex appeal is adequate, he says inadequate. Just seated below them is a man dining alone. So Sally pours some of her champagne cocktail on his head. This starts up a conversation with the man and soon he is offering to buy them drinks. He comes up and sits with them at their table. He ends up picking up the entire check and then he takes them to a top Berlin night club where they dance. At the end of the night, their new "friend" takes off with Sally in a car, leaving behind Chris.
At home Chris has a terrible hangover and feels terrible. He is also still very mad at Sally for leaving him behind. Sally comes home still a bit giddy from her wonderful night on the town. He says he has rheumatic fever, but that just gets him into trouble. She calls down to Clive waiting by the car on the street and tells him to come up because Chris is very ill. Sally, Clive and the landlady grab Chris out of bed and carry him to a fancier room. There he gets lots of unwanted attention. And then they bring in a doctor.
Sally calls up friends to help cheer up Chris. Soon the place is overfilled with people and they are drinking, smoking, talking and having a good time. And everybody has medical advice and diagnoses for Chris, who is overwhelmed by the whole experience. And then Clive calls up three medical specialists to give Chris their advertised treatments. Chris begs Clive and Sally to save him, but they are all too into playing doctor.
Clive foots the bill for a continued whirlwind of expensive activities. When Chris a bit better, they grab him and take him on a tour. One morning there is a state funeral for someone important killed by the Nazis. The funeral makes Chris a bit worried about the future of Germany with these murderous Nazis. Meanwhile, Clive is planning a trip to Honolulu, Hawaii for the three of them. Clive has to do something first, but when he comes back, he wants the other two to be packed and ready to go. To that end, he gives Chris a lot of money so they can buy lots of warm weather clothes for their trip.
Fritz and the landlady come in. The landlady says to Fritz that both of her tenants are going away. She complains how this will put a financial strain on her, especially, when the prices of goods are going sky high. She then says it's all the fault of the Jews. Chris gets angry and says that the landlady knows that that's just not true. She retorts that he should listen to the speeches on the radio and hear what they have to say about the Jews. The landlady now leaves.
Chris and Sally ask how Fritz is doing. He is doing terribly. He followed Sally's advice to just pounce on Natalia and now Natalia won't see him anymore. Natalia is also very worried by all the attacks on the Jews. Her father gets threatening letters all the time. He is worried sick and her mother is subject to fainting. He then wants to tell Chris and Sally about something terrible. They are interrupted by Sally getting a telegram. She reads it and then urges Fritz to go because they have so much to do. Chris wants to hear what Fritz was about to tell them, but now Fritz is determined to go, even though Chris nearly begged him to stay.
After Fritz leaves, Chris scolds Sally for throwing Fritz out. He says that Fritz is in some real trouble. Sally says that well, we're in trouble too. Clive has just given the two of them the brush-off for a trip up the Amazon River. This leads to a real verbal fight between Chris and Sally and she decides to leave the apartment all together.
Clive goes to see Fritz. At first Fritz won't tell Chris what's bothering him, but when Clive starts apologizing to him, he blurts it out. He is really Jewish, as well as a cheat, a coward and a liar. And now Fritz decides that he should tell Natalia the truth and risk the same fate as her and her family.
After talking with Fritz, it's as if Chris now sees what's really going on around him. A Jewish store owner has his place ransacked. He gets into a fight with the Nazis spreading their hatred of the Jews. He throws one flier on the ground and then knocks all the fliers out of the hands of the Nazi handing out the fliers. Chris gets a good beating from the Nazis there.
Chris goes to his apartment and gets balled out by the landlady for treating a lady so badly. Chris goes up to Sally's room and demands to know what Sally has been saying to the landlady. She says that perhaps the landlady thought that Chris is the father. Sally is pregnant. Sally then tells Chris that she's frightened. The father is Clive. Chris now offers to marry Sally, but she tells him that even she wouldn't go that far. Chris says that Sally needs the best care and he will work to make some money. He also sits down and starts writing.
One day Natalia and Fritz pay them a visit. The couple is getting married. Fritz tells Chris that when he told Natalia that he is Jewish, she told him she already knew it. Natalia says that she hopes that one day the German people will see who the Nazis really are. But right now, as things are, she is not at all certain about her and Fritz's future.
Chris gets paid for a story he wrote. And he has arranged to pay for Sally's hospital stay to have the fetus aborted. Sally tells him to stay and go to that appointment he has with the editor. She insists on it, so Chris decides to stay at home.
The editor hires Chris to visit key cities in Europe and write about them. He is raring to go. When he gets back home he hears Sally singing a lullaby. He asks her what happened. She decided not to have the abortion, but have the baby instead. And Chris, after all, did promise to marry her. Chris forgot all about his offer of marriage. Now he feels a bit trapped. And Sally is talking about a second baby and perhaps more. Chris goes out to have himself a stiff drink.
The next day Sally says she never was good at math. Apparently, she's not pregnant and now she's off to Paris to meet with a film maker. She says to Chris, you see, I told you I would inspire you to write. They kiss goodbye. She says she'll send him a postcard.
Back to the present. Chris finishes his story saying that the promised post card never arrived and that's probably just as well. So now he goes into the other room to see Sally. Sally is surrounded by men, but she pulls away and makes a bee-line straight for Chris. She hasn't changed a bit. She says she was thrown out of her hotel and has no money. So Chris says then she better come home with him. And that's just fine with Sally.
Good movie. But, unlike Cabaret, there is no homosexuality in this movie. Both movies, however, do have a Sally Bowles who is over the top, full of life and love. And in both movies, the threat of the Nazis looms in the background. And, at times, the Nazis are only too close for Christopher and Sally, and their Jewish friends Natalia and Fritz. Natalia is extremely worried and wonders if they have any real future in such an anti-Semitic country as Germany under Hitler. And there is very little Natalia and Fritz can do about the Nazis. Of course, Cabaret, is a much better movie, but it's still worth seeing this earlier move about fiddling while Rome starts to burn. Julie Harris (as singer Sally Bowles) and Laurence Harvey (as writer Christopher Isherwood) were both very good in the movie.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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