“The most dangerous threat to the happiness of any young married couple, besides matrimony itself, are the mothers-in-law; this terrible feminine lobby, since the dawn of time , has always meddled and tried to disturb the tranquillity of newlyweds and sometimes their evil schemes succeeded in making a contented life impossible for the youngsters.
The great German director, Herr Ernst Lubitsch, captured pretty well these universal mother-in-law treacherous manoeuvres in “Als Ich Tot War” ( When I Was Dead ) (1916) a two-reel silent comedy shown recently at the Schloss theatre.
The film depicts the story of a young married couple ( Herr Ernst Lubitsch himself and Frau Louise Schenrich ) who live in the same apartment with their mother-in-law ( Frau Lanchen Voss ), a terrible mistake. At least if the mother-in-law lives far away, her dangerous intentions require more exertion to work. Herr Ernst likes very much to play chess with his pals at the club, a thrilling sport that will bring him a lot of problems ( that’s what happens when you play such weird games ). One night Herr Ernst arrives home late due to one of those exciting and lengthy chess matches and finds the door to his home locked, forcing him to sleep on the stairs. It is not necessary to say that the party responsible for such an evil act is his mother-in-law who continually uses the long chess matches to poison her daughter’s mind against her husband. She finally succeeds and Frau Luise divorces her mate.
But Herr Ernst’s revenge will be terrible: His mother-in-law puts an ad in the newspaper for a butler so, anticipating many modernen superheroes, he dons a disguise and answers the ad (Herr Ernst s disguise consists only of a wig but nobody seems to recognize him). Now, inside his old home and thanks to his wig, his sex appeal will attract the maid and even his mother-in-law!, In what it is one of the most insidious plans of vengeance ever contemplated. Herr Ernst will try to seduce his mother-in-law in order to shame her and finally banish her from his home.
“Als Ich Tot War” is a funny silent comedy, typical of Herr Lubitsch’s youngster days. It’s rough but therein lays its charm. The funny and simple situations depicted in the film and its light, easy and inoffensive humour is of the sort that have pleased audiences for centuries before the silent screen. Herr Lubitsch of course will later become one of the most important film directors in cinema history but he’s a long way from that here.
And now, if you’ll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must play chess with one of his mothers-in-law.”
Subtitles:English & Spanish