Many thanks to Paul van Yperen of the blog European Film Star Postcards for today's guest post. He shares the story of a surprise hit movie from the 1930s and its equally surprising poster...
Can Love Be A Sin?
Nobody in the Netherlands of the 1930s portrayed divas like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich more gorgeously than graphic designer Frans Mettes. He made this 1939 poster, De vrouw met de blauwvos (The Woman with the Blue Fox), for a forgotten German comedy starring sultry Swedish singer Zarah Leander.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Frans Mettes (1909-1984) made elegant, humorous advertising posters for Dutch products like Droste chocolates, Hartevelt gin and Heineken beer. Less known are his hundreds of film posters from the period 1934 - 1949, fluently drawn star portraits as ‘De vrouw met de blauwvos’, made for the Ufa production ‘Der Blaufuchs’ (1938). In his book ‘Die Ufa Story’ (1992, Munich), Klaus Kreimeier describes ‘Der Blaufuchs’ as the first Zarah Leander film in a series of "artistic flops with uninspired directing hand in hand with mindless stories". In 1939, the Dutch public thought quite differently about the film. In Amsterdam, ‘Der Blaufuchs’ ran from 3 March 1939 for two weeks in the Rembrandt Ufa-Theater (with over 1250 places). It did equally well in cinemas in Rotterdam and The Hague. In April the movie was reprised in all these cities. That was a remarkable success in an era when movies were rarely prolonged.
So, ‘Der Blaufuchs’ was a surprise hit in The Netherlands, but Zarah Leander was already very popular in continental Europe at the time and she became even more so during WWII when Hollywood productions could not be shown here. ‘Der Blaufuchs’ is not the typical Leander-melodrama, but a comedy. Zarah plays the flirtatious and frivolous heroine who breaks away from her boring marriage. She does that without a penalty nor guilt. Unthinkable for a Hollywood production of the 1930’s. But Leander shines and sings her biggest hit: ‘Kann denn Liebe Sünde sein?’ (Can love be a sin?). The Dutch film censorship thought so. They forbade the film: "coarse, sensual, dirty, filthy, frivolous, provocative", even after a re-inspection ("a perverted spirit") and a second re-inspection. Only after various edits the film was finally allowed in Dutch cinemas on February 14, 1939. However, still only for spectators older than 18 years.
His poster ‘De vrouw met de blauwvos’ shows how Frans Mettes could lure the Dutch public to come flocking to the cinemas. In the blink of an eye, a passerby saw on his poster where the movie was all about. Although this film was a comedy, Mettes did not make a comic design. No, he portrayed Leander in a cool blue with her fox as her only attribute. His red titles are a frame to her beautiful face. The effect is subtle. The red-on-blue letters seem to come forward to you. These Dutch film posters were placed behind windows and glass doors of shops and cafés. The winter of 1939 must have been very cold in Holland. And then suddenly, you saw Zarah from behind a window pane, staring into the freezing dark outside, looking at you. But the gaze that Frans Mettes gave her is not cold. The eyes of Zarah Leander seem to beg and to entice you.
Can love be a sin?
This short article was published before in the former Dutch magazine Skrien in a series about the treasures of the Dutch Filmmuseum (now Eye Film Institute) . If you want to know more about Zarah Leander, please check out the post on her at my blog European Film Star Postcards.