Prostitutes come runnin' for the good taste of sausage. This subtle visual metaphor is brought to us by G.W. Pabst's 1929 film Diary of a Lost Girl (Tagebuch einer Verlorenen), the story of an innocent girl's bizarre descent into a life of sin and abuse. The ostensibly social interest story feels quite tongue in cheek and it's one of the cutest and funniest silent movies I've ever seen.
Louise Brooks' smirk at the camera here as one of the prostitutes starts to undress her reminded me of John Belushi in Animal House. This is despite the fact that Brooks is supposed to be playing Thymian, the sweet and innocent subject of the film. Thymian is basically the exact opposite of the character she played in her previous collaboration with Pabst. Where she was an unapologetic and fantastic hedonist in that film, here she plays a girl everyone takes advantage of and who spends a lot of time fainting. Lulu, her character in Pandora's Box was such a remarkably natural performance. Here, it's as though Brooks is laughing at her own character.
Here she is with her first client at the brothel. She faints for sex, alcohol, and the sight of her father fraternising with a maid. The maid takes over the household, and after Thymian is raped by the impressively vile man who works as an assistant to her pharmacist father, the maid succeeds in getting Thymian sent to a militaristic reformatory headed by a lusty old lesbian. A lot of this movie made me grin in the way School of the Holy Beast did.
Escaping from the reformatory with the help of one of her fellow inmates, Thymian ends up at the brothel. After accidentally have sex with a client her first night there, Thymian protests that she can make money in other ways. She asks the brothel's madam to post an advertisement in the newspaper for dancing instruction. The madam adds "lovely" to Thymian's name in the advertisement and the film cuts to this guy;
The message is clear--if you choose the life of a prostitute, ladies, you might end up having sex with a guy who has a crazy big goatee. So just you keep that in mind.
Thymian starts the dance lesson and it's adorably obvious she has no idea how to dance. She starts flipping her torso up and down and doing stretches while the goatee guy looks on utterly perplexed.
Most of the movie just made me smile but there were one or two effective dramatic moments, as when Thymian's father finds her in a club standing as the prize in a drunken raffle. As Thymian's frivolous mood is broken by the sight of her saddened father, her friend observes that she is a lost girl now.
The film is inferior to Pandora's Box largely because of its comparative lack of focus, but it is nowhere near bad. Louise Brooks is just too great.