From the end of the 1920s, the number of sound films ("talkies") produced began to grow steadily, and within just a few years, silent films disappeared entirely
Beginning in the last years of the 19th century, a new medium conquered the entertainment industry: cinema. During the first three decades of the development of cinema, viewers had to tolerate watching moving pictures that played with musical accompaniment. From the end of the 1920s, the number of sound films (“talkies”) produced began to grow steadily, and within just a few years, silent films disappeared entirely.
Disappearing with them were also many actors who did not adjust to the new demands of film, including the soundtrack. In effect, film was a technological upgrade of theater: on theater stages, actors would appear every evening before a new audience, as they do today, while films preserve a one-time production of the plot. The film reels could be reproduced countless times, so copies of the film could be screened in the various cinemas in many cities across the globe – and in every screening, the audience would see the same version of the work (with the exception of differences that arose from the conditions of screening or from technical defects in the particular copy of the film).
Many cinemas also sprung up in Germany, drawing already in the days of Imperial Germany an audience that was enthusiastic for more films to be produced. The rate of film production was greatly accelerated during the years of the Weimar Republic – despite the tremendous economic problems that hindered the growth of the branch in the early 1920s. The production companies also operated movie theater chains such as UFA and EMELKA. In 1927, there were already some 4,300 cinemas in Germany, and the largest among them could house over 1,000 viewers. Premier screenings of the new films took place in prominent movie theaters in the large cities, in order to ensure a large audience and immediate positive public response with the film’s release. Film critics and journalists were invited to these screenings, in the hope that they would write positive reviews in the newspapers, which in turn would be likely to draw more viewers to subsequent screenings.
One of the cultural critics active in Berlin was Karl Ehrenstein (1892-1971), a Viennese Jew, and brother of the well known expressionist writer Albert Ehrenstein.
Karl, who also attempted to create literary works in the expressionist style (but without much success), wrote reviews of various cultural events that took place in the German capital in the mid-1920s, often for the communist newspaper Die Welt am Abend (“The World in the Evening”). Ehrenstein saved the invitation, entrance ticket, draft of his article about the visit, and texts that were ultimately published in the newspaper. In this manner his personal archive presents an impressive picture of the cultural life of Berlin in the “Golden Twenties.”
The film was produced and directed by Manfred Noa, a German director – as far as is known, from a Jewish home – who directed approximately 30 films during the 1920s, the most outstanding of which was a cinematic version (the only to this day) of the play “Nathan the Wise” (1922) by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. The film, however, whose spectators included Karl Ehrenstein, belongs to another genre and appealed to a wider audience.
The plot tells the story of a drug dealer, the power struggles of criminal gangs, and big money. The assortment of actors appearing in the film is a good representation of the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Berlin in the 1920s. It included actors from England, France, Austria, Germany and even Asia. As occurred often, six years after the production, with the Nazi rise to power, the paths of the actors who appeared together in the film diverged. For example, the chief British actor, Jack Trevor, moved to Germany and stayed there even through the period of the Nazis, who forced him to be the chief British news announcer during WWII. His Jewish colleague, Kurt Gerron, who was a very well-known actor in Germany, tried to flee the Nazis but was apprehended and became an inmate at Terezín (Theresienstadt) where the Nazis forced the actor, who was also a director, to direct a propaganda film on Theresienstadt, the “City of Jews.” Ultimately, Kurt Gerron was murdered in Auschwitz a few months after the film was produced.