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S1E12: Last Gasps

Last Gasps

On the previous episode of Horrid I spoke at length about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It’s an excellent movie which is widely considered to be the quintessential cinematic work of German Expressionism. While Caligari is well-deserving of the praise it receives, I wanted to spend an episode of Horrid discussing it’s lesser known follow up, a movie called Genuine.

Genuine (1920)

Now, Genuine is not a true sequel to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but it could be considered a spiritual successor. Originally released in 1920 in Berlin, Genuine reunites Caligari’s director Robert Weine with screenwriter Carl Mayer. Genuine also features the same cinematographer and production designer as Caligari. Based on that, it may come as little surprise when I tell you that Genuine continues with the same extreme expressionist visuals that featured so heavily in the earlier movie.

For many years Genuine was an exceedingly rare film. Few people, including film critics from throughout the 20th century, have actually seen the film. For a long time only a few prints of Genuine were even known to exist. The film was never widely available until a significantly truncated, 44-minute version was released on DVD in 2014. It features tinted scenes and English language intertitles, neither of which were present in the original cut of the film. This was the only version of Genuine that had ever been released on home media until 2018, when a copy of the complete film was finally posted to YouTube. The full-length film is 88 minutes in length and features an expanded story. 

I’ve now seen both versions of Genuine, and I recommend each of them for different reasons. Although neither the 44-minute nor the 88-minute long versions are presented in high definition, the visuals of the truncated version feature much improved clarity. It is much easier to see the expressionist sets and the elaborate costuming in the shorter version of the movie. However, the longer version of Genuine is definitely recommended viewing if you want to fully experience the story. Several scenes are outright missing from the 44-minute version of the film, and some of the edits rather significantly change the story progression, frequently harming audience comprehension. The complete version of the film also features the original intertitles, which are nice to see in terms of being able to appreciate the font and style of their presentation. However, these intertitles are not in English. Luckily, the YouTube video has a subtitle track that will display the translations of the intertitles as captions.

Genuine (1920)

Given this is such a rare film, a summary of the complete 88-minute version of Genuine follows:

An artist named Percy has recently completed a portrait of Genuine, a sort of goddess or priestess of a religious tribe. A wealthy benefactor comes to his home to purchase the portrait, but Percy refuses to part with it no matter the price. Percy falls asleep reading a book of scary stories, and we watch as the portrait comes to life, Genuine stepping down from the painting on the wall and approaching Percy’s sleeping form. 

The film jumps back in time and we see Genuine with her tribe. An intertitle tells us that she is stolen away during a battle between two tribes, ultimately landing her in a slave market. Genuine is purchased by the wealthy Lord Melo and she is brought back to his palatial estate. She is locked away in a subterranean chamber, inside of which is a large glass structure that looks rather like a birdcage and which serves as Genuine’s home. 

Genuine – The Priestess

There are a few scenes in which Lord Melo visits with Genuine in her chambers. She is presented very much as a seductress, her movements and expressions accentuating her feminine form. There is something hypnotic about her, and perhaps addictive. It is also clear that her time with the tribe has left her unconcerned with civilized norms. She is much like a savage, caged animal, longing to be freed. It should also be mentioned that Lord Melo has a very large black man wearing a stereotypical Persian outfit as a bodyguard. The bodyguard seems to obey Lord Melo’s every command with a sort of supernatural obedience. 

We are then introduced to Guyard, a local barber. Melo’s estate is clearly mysterious to the local town people, who gossip and wonder at what business Guyard could have at this strange house every single day. Guyard’s business is actually rather trivial; he travels to Lord Melo’s house every day at noon to provide shaving services to the eccentric, rich man. 

Eventually the town people demand that the local magistrate investigate Guyard’s dealings at the mysterious house. Guyard is thus summoned to a meeting the next day at noon. Unable to attend to his wealthy client, Guyard instead sends his nephew and apprentice, Florian. 

As fate would have it, the day that Florian arrives to attend to Lord Melo is also the day that Genuine finally escapes from her subterranean prison. Florian is painted very much as a young, inexperienced man that is only just now getting out into the world. It is from this naivete that Genuine is able to so quickly infatuate and seduce the young man. Her movements and gestures are seductive and hypnotic. Genuine very quickly convinces Florian to use his razor to slit Lord Melo’s throat, which the young man does with little hesitation. 

The bodyguard comes into the room, but Genuine instructs Florian to take a ring from the finger of the dead Lord Melo. Upon doing so, the bodyguard stands down, ready to now obey the new keeper of the ring. Some time passes and we see Florian lounging upon a bed with Genuine. He is entirely infatuated with her, his essence completely sapped by her probing and insatiable eyes. Genuine, however, has grown bored of her new toy. With wild wickedness, she tells Florian to prove his love for her by killing himself. The young man is clearly conflicted, but can’t bring himself to take his own life. In the confusion, Genuine steals the mystical ring away from Florian. She commands the bodyguard to take Florian outside and to kill him. She also demands that the guard bring her back proof of Florian’s death.

Genuine – The Seductress

The bodyguard drags Florian outside, and the young man begs for his life. The guard draws forth his dagger, but he hesitates. Perhaps now that he is further away from the ring, it holds less power over him. The bodyguard relents and tells Florian to run away and to never return. After the young man flees, the guard cuts open his own arm and collects his blood in goblet. He brings this to Genuine as false proof of Florian’s demise. 

Shortly thereafter, Lord Melo’s grandson Percy arrives at the estate. He is initially distraught to learn of his grandfather’s demise, but these thoughts are quickly overcome when he meets the beguiling Genuine. In short order Genuine has again worked her magic and has successfully seduced Percy, just as she had Florian before him. Percy writes a letter to his friend, Henry, asking him to come to the estate at once to meet his love. Percy requests that Henry send along the finest clothes and jewels so that Percy can shower Genuine with these gifts. 

All of these things transpire, and not long after Henry’s arrival it seems that Genuine has again begun to tire of Percy. As before, Genuine tells Percy that he must take his own life to prove his love for her, causing him to run screaming from her bedroom. Henry calms Percy and goes to see Genuine, telling her that Percy has killed himself. Genuine has a sudden change in heart upon hearing the news, and she begins to sob, surprising even herself with the sorrow she feels at the loss of Percy. Seeing the anguish bubble up within her, Henry tells Genuine that Percy is actually still alive, and she rejoices. Percy and Genuine are reunited and it is clear that whatever evil was within Genuine’s heart has now been vanquished by true love.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, Florian has made his way back to town. Practically insane and suffering from an intense fever, Guyard can only surmise that something awful occurred to Florian at Lord Melo’s house. Guyard goes to the magistrate but finds no satisfaction. Instead, Guyard begins to whip up a frenzied mob to deliver justice to the rich man’s home. Florian slips out of his uncle’s house while this is going on and he makes his way back to Lord Melo’s estate ahead of the angry mob.

Florian finds Genuine alone in her underground room, as she is preparing to leave Lord Melo’s house with Percy forever. Florian is very clearly still infatuated with Genuine, and he tells her that he loves her. Genuine tells Florian of her love for Percy and she tries to gently rebuke Florian’s advances. Around this time, the mob arrives at the estate and breaks down the front door. Everything spiraling out of his control, Florian declares that if he cannot have Genuine then no one can. Florian chases Genuine around the house, eventually catching her and stabbing her to death. The mob enters the room just as Florian murders Genuine, and Gudyard is anguished to see his nephew is a murderer. 

Florian, the Murderer

The scene fades away and we return to the painter’s apartment. This version of Percy awakens and sees that the portrait of Genuine is as he left it. He considers the painting for a moment, and is suddenly overcome with rage. As he moves to destroy the painting, his friends arrive and stop him. The elderly gentlemen again arrives and offers to buy the painting for a hefty sum. Percy relents, and he approves the sale of the painting to the old man. The name on the check? Lord Melo.

Genuine Acting

Astute viewers may recognize Florian, as played by actor Hans Heinrich von Twardowski. He does a fine job in Genuine, playing the young and naive barber protege that is ensnared by Genuine’s seduction. This is the same actor who played Alan, the main character’s friend who is killed in the fantastic silhouette murder set piece in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Genuine was Twardowski’s follow up to Caligari, both of which were among his very first on-screen credits. Eventually, Twardowski would go on to star in some 78 movies, many of them made in America following his emigration from Germany in 1930. As you might expect from the time frame, Twardowski left Germany shortly before the Nazi regime came into power. He was motivated to do so as he was a known homosexual, and he feared persecution, or worse, at the hands of the Nazis.

The Most Beautiful Girl in Europe

Fern Andra. A Portrait.

The real star of the film is American actress Fern Andra in the titular role of the priestess Genuine. Andra has a very striking physical presence in the movie, with her frizzy black hair and outlandish costuming. Overall, I found Andra’s performance fun. She has an unconventional beauty to her that is perfectly suited to the character of a supernatural seductress from a foreign land.

I’ve read some modern day online reviews of Genuine which find fault with Andra’s performance, saying that she is overacting. Negative reviews often blame her lack of experience in film or a lack of training as an actress. Not only do I disagree, but such claims about Andra’s acting experience are simply untrue. Sometime between 1910 and 1913, Andra trained under the famous German theater director Max Reinhardt in Berlin. During this time, Andra also met and was tutored by a young German playwright, Josef Goebbels. Then, beginning with her first German film in 1913, Andra was featured in some 32 films before starring in Genuine. Inexperienced, she was not. 

Reading up on Andra revealed a rather eventful life. Andra was born in 1893 with the name Vernal Edna Andrews in Illinois. By the age of 4, she was a tightrope performer in her step-father’s circus act, and later she performed as an acrobat. Her step-father himself was a vaudeville performer and he also trained Andra in the areas of song and dance. The circus toured across the United States, Canada, and Europe, providing Fern with important international connections that would eventually lead to her film career. 

Andra found success in the German film industry throughout the 1910s, becoming a popular actress in the country. During the height of her popularity, Andra gained the nickname of “The Most Beautiful Girl in Europe.” Her fame took a bit of hit when the United States entered World War I in 1917, and rumors began to circulate that the American-borne actress was a spy. In an attempt to curtail these rumors, Andra married a well-known Prussian Baron, thereby bestowing Andra with the proper title of Baroness. The marriage was short-lived, however, as Andra’s husband died in combat soon after they were wed.

While the marriage did help Andra stave off rumors of spying, her popularity began to fade in the early 1920s. She made headlines in 1922 when newspapers mistakenly reported that she had died in a plane crash. In reality, Andra survived the plane crash and would take several years to rehabilitate from her injuries. The event was also notable due to the identity of the pilot that died during the crash, which was Lothar von Richtofen. Lothar was the brother of Manfred von Richthofen, a German fighter pilot during World War I who might be better known by his wartime nickname, The Red Baron. 

After the plane crash, Andra resumed her film career, and she even had success with films that were exported to the United States and the UK. She married several times and even lived in Hollywood for a period after 1927. Andra returned to Germany during the build up to World War II, and again accusations of spying began to damage her reputation. This time, however, the accusations were reversed. Now Andra was supposedly working for the German government and was providing intelligence on the United States. These rumors were fueled by her younger association with the playwright Josef Goebbels, who would go on to become General Goebbels, the German Minister of Propaganda, and was one of Hitler’s closest and most devoted associates. These rumors were given credence as Andra supposedly was Goebbels’ mistress throughout this time.

Now for the craziest part of all, this time Andra actually was a spy, but she was acting on behalf of the United States government. She was using her reputation as the most beautiful girl in Europe and her metaphorical skills as a tightrope walker to extract intelligence from Goebbels. Eventually, Andra fled back to the United States. For the remainder of the war she was used by the United States government to broadcast German-language messages to Germany in an attempt to counteract Hitler’s Nazi propaganda.

Genuine Expressionist Sets

The sets for Genuine are an interesting mix of natural and extreme expressionist locations. Both the sets and the costumes were designed by the renowned German expressionist artist Cesar Klein. Although an expressionist by style, Klein was trained at the Hamburg School of the Applied Arts. This practical training meant he had the skills to work in a variety of mainstream mediums, including architecture and posters in addition to theater and film design. When the Nazi regime came to power in Germany, Klein and his art was denounced and even included in the state’s Degenerate Art exhibit. This was a form of propaganda in which the Nazi party rejected almost all forms of modern art as having been corrupted by Jewish influence. 

In the frame story, in which Percy the Painter is the lead character, the apartment has a real world and natural aesthetic. Inside the story within the story, most of the sets at least have some elements of expressionism but they tend to be muted. For example, the inside of Guyard’s home and barbershop is more or less a normal room. The window panes are recognizably rectangular in shape, and the room is full of proper right angles. Still, the windows have shadows painted upon them, and much of the room is shrouded in similar artificial darkness. 

The most extreme examples of expressionism are confined to Lord Melo’s sprawling mansion. And when I say extreme, I mean extreme. Some of the sets in this film are so far beyond the disjointed yet recognizable lines present throughout Caligari. There is one bedroom in particular, where the headboard and wall behind the bed are an explosion of thick, curved black lines. It almost looks like a cartoon bomb has gone off, leaving the outline of the explosion permanently etched into the room and furniture. I’m sure there’s some sort of symbolism at play here, with this being the primary location where the seductress Genuine spends time with her ensared male prey throughout the film.

Also of note is Lord Melo’s study. It is a strange room with black walls which are adorned with all sorts of strange artifacts that Lord Melo has likely retrieved on his various journeys around the world. There is a chandelier hanging from the ceiling, looking almost like the winged face of a hideous gargoyle or gorgon. The centerpiece of the room, no doubt, is an eight-foot tall skeleton whose skull has been replaced with a clock. It’s a strange set piece. The decor is certainly not subtle, and it once again goes far beyond any of the visuals seen in Weine’s previous work, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

The Costumes

The costumes, like the sets, are also a mixture of natural and expressionist design. Most of the men appear in normal clothing, and the wildest expressionist costumes are reserved for Genuine herself. Many of her costumes are extravagantly decorated, with bold black stripes, flowing scarves, and tufts of feathers. Combined with Andra’s frizzy black hair, Genuine’s entire appearance seems designed after a peacock or another bird of extravagant plumage. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the seductress is designed to draw the eye and to hold firmly the gaze.

Genuine – The Centerpiece

One of Genuine’s costumes in particular was controversial during the film’s initial release. Thick, black lines cover the chest, and these lines continue, swirling down her long legs. These lines were said to have been painted directly on Andra’s body by costume designer Cesar Klein, being one of the very first uses of body paint in film. Combined with a bit of peripheral nudity in the slave market scene, the film was undoubtedly risque for its time. 

The costumes also bring me back to those contemporary claims that Andra is overacting in her role as Genuine. While her movements are large and exaggerated, these motions are perfectly in sync with the costume design. Genuine is meant to draw the eye. As a character, all eyes are meant to be on this supernatural seductress. While I appreciate that my opinion is just as valid as other reviewers, I think that Andra’s acting is perfectly in tune with the essence of this character. She is meant to be the centerpiece of every room and every situation, and this appropriately comes through in Andra’s performance.

Vamp or Vampire?

One last bit of misconception seems to swirl around Genuine online. The film has been known by a few different titles over the years, including simply Genuine, Genuine: The Tragedy of a Strange House, and Genuine: A Tale of a Vampire. It’s that last title that has proven to be the most interesting to me. 

After watching the film, it seemed rather clear that the Genuine character is not a vampire, at least not in the supernatural, blood-drinking immortal sense of the word. A fair explanation can be found on the FrightFilmGeek Blog:

“Many people assume that because the word vampire is in the title, the film must be about vampires. The word did not always mean a blood-sucking undead fiend; it was sometimes used to describe a villain or an unsavory character. “Vampire” or “vamp” was also a term commonly used in early Hollywood to describe a woman who uses her charms to seduce a man. . . The use of “Vampire” or “vamp” to describe a female fatale in the early 20th century is credited to Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Vampire” published 1897.”

A similar explanation is seen at the top of the Wikipedia page for Genuine, and I initially moved on from the use of the word, a suitable explanation having been found. However, as I researched this episode of Horrid, I was also reading a book about the German expressionist movement in cinema. The book, entitled Beyond Caligari: The Films of Robert Wiene, has a section dedicated to Genuine. It was in this book’s plot summary for the film that I came across some interesting text:

“Many years ago the originally pure and innocent Genuine was abducted by a mysterious oriental sect, who corrupted her and forced her to participate in their primitive, blood-sucking ritualistic practices.”

Huh. A reference to the Genuine character drinking blood. That’s strange, I thought. The summary continues:

“[Lord Melo] gives her the most enchanting garments and lets her drink the blood of birds. Nevertheless, all of this does not assuage her savage lust for blood.”

Lord Melo lets Genuine drink the blood of birds? Did we watch the same movie, I started to wonder. I couldn’t recall any such scenes in the film. Later in the summary, after the point in the film where Genuine has seduced Florian, the barber’s apprentice:

“Genuine, however, cannot live without blood and demands that Florian kill himself as proof of his love for her. He refuses to accede to her demand; she takes the magic ring and orders the servant to kill Florian and bring her his blood.”

These few sentences were incredibly interesting to me. Perhaps there was more to the Genuine story and the alternate vampire title than the traditional vamp/femme fatale explanation. I went back to the uncut version of the film and rewatched many scenes over and over again. Although the film quality is poor and the intertitle cards roughly translated, I wasn’t able to make out any scenes in which Genuine is seen drinking blood, whether that of birds or humans. In the scene in which the bodyguard has let Florian go and he brings Genuine a cup of his own blood, the scene cuts away before Genuine is seen doing anything with the goblet.

The only scene where some sort of blood ritual might be occurring on film is at the beginning, the flashback scene in which Genuine is seen being worshiped by her tribe. The tribesmen all circle about in the left hand side of the frame, clearly doing something that is obscured in shadow. The men seem to have swords, and I could almost convince myself that they might have been draining the blood from the body of a bird. The poor film quality here is frustrating as nothing amounting to tangible evidence can really be claimed to be seen.

So after reviewing the film, I was ready to write off these descriptions of blood drinking from Beyond Caligari. It seemed strange to me that this seemingly otherwise scholarly work would include unsubstantiated details, but then I recalled that the book may likely have been written before the film was widely available. It’s entirely possible the book was written with the authors having never seen the film for themselves. Perhaps their summary had been based on some other source. 

Still, I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe this. I started searching for movie reviews from around the time Genuine was originally released. Given that the movie had never seen wide release in the United States, this search was complicated by all the sources being written in German. In what I can only call a eureka moment, I finally found a resource compiling many of these early reviews and was able to read them after processing them through translation software. 

To my complete delight, I found that several of these early reviews did make reference to Genuine drinking blood. The motif appears in so many of these reviews that there’s no way that this is a coincidence. Better still, there was one review in particular which gave me more information to go on. From the review of Genuine published in the September 11, 1920 edition of Film and Press, a German print magazine :

“Carl Mayer wrote the manuscript with his heart and soul. This completely well-deserved recognition becomes fully comprehensible only after reading the manuscript. I have fulfilled this duty and found that Carl Mayer — as has been said here the other day — is a true artist. Unfortunately, however, not everything the poet designed is expressed in the film.”

Between this and another review from The Day Book, it is clear that film reviewers were provided with the screenplay for the movie. Carl Mayer’s original intentions for the story were darker and more blood-thristy. While Genuine may not have been written as a traditional undead vampire like Count Dracula, it is clear to me that Mayer’s intentions for her were far closer to the now stereotypical blood drinking vampire than the defanged seductress we see on screen.

Final Thoughts

While a lesser known film than its predecessor, Genuine is another fine example of the German expressionist film genre. The fact that the most complete version of the film available can be watched for free on YouTube is also a great boon for modern horror fans that want to check it out. Fern Andra gives a very expressive performance, no pun intended, and Lord Melo’s study is a great set that needs to be seen to be appreciated. Both the 44-minute version and the complete cut of the film can be viewed on the transcript page for this episode on horridpodcast.com.

We are now approaching the end of the silent film era. There are admittedly numerous more films of interest from the 1920s that I could cover, but an even dozen episodes for the first season of Horrid just seems right. I’ll be taking a break from Horrid for now, but plan to have more episodes out to you later this year. 

If you’ve noticed any factual errors in this episode, please write in to [email protected]. Additionally, as we head into this midseason break, write in and share your thoughts about season 1 of the show. What did you enjoy? What did you learn? What topics would you like to see discussed on a season two of Horrid? You can follow Horrid on Twitter and Instagram, @HorridPodcast, and you can follow me, @DocManson.

If you’ve enjoyed this episode, consider taking two minutes of your time to tell two of your friends about Horrid. If you’d like to hear more about the history of horror, be sure to subscribe to Horrid through your favorite podcast app. Please also leave a review for Horrid wherever it is that you listen to podcasts. Reviews play a very important role in making sure a podcast is surfaced to new listeners.

For now though, keep watching horror.

And until next time, stay scared.

Related Media

Genuine (1920) – 44 minutes

Genuine (1920) – 88 minutes

References & Further Reading

  1. “Genuine (Film).” Wikipedia, 17 Dec. 2020. Wikipedia.
  2. “Fern Andra.” Wikipedia, 15 Jan. 2021. Wikipedia.
  3. “Fern Andra” Edna Andrews « Mrs. Astor and the Gilded Age. Accessed 17 Jan. 2021.
  4. Baroness Fern Andra. Iroquois County Genealogical Society. Accessed 17 Jan. 2021.
  5. Ballroom, Moondogs. “The Silver Screen Surfer: Genuine ~ 1920 Directed By Robert Wiene.” The Silver Screen Surfer, 9 July 2013.
  6. Geek, Fright Film. “Fright Film Geek : The First Vampire Film.” Fright Film Geek, 11 Nov. 2014.
  7. Jung, Uli, and Walter Schatzberg. Beyond Caligari: The Films of Robert Wiene. Berghahn Books, 1999. Google Books.
  8. Cabinet Des Dr. https://case.edu/artsci/modlang/german-film/Stummfilme.html. Accessed 17 Jan. 2021.