Enamored of his uniform, the porter benevolently lords it over his fellow slum dwellers, who seem to regard him as a symbol of traditional authority — with his gaudily braided coat and cap, his whiskers and his paunch, he could pass for Santa Claus or one of the fallen kaiser's junkers. Once he loses his post and uniform, however, he falls into despair and ignominy. And the people lose a figurehead and leader.
DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER: He’s a mesmerist and trickster who can influence card games or the stock market.
What the world of the lower class is like without a uniformed porter to inspire them can be seen in G.W. Pabst's three-hour melodrama THE JOYLESS STREET (1925; December 4 at 7 pm, with live musical accompaniment). As the intertitles explain, the #1 and #2 tyrants of the blighted street of the title are the neighborhood butcher and the mistress of the local speakeasy. One trades meat for sexual favors; the other trades in flesh — desperate women, whom she procures to entertain slumming rich people at her club. Among her intended victims is Grete, who's played in a career-making role by Greta Garbo.
Who will protect this luminous, self-sacrificing angel from a fate worse than death when her feckless father blows all his money on the stock market — once again manipulated, as in Mabuse, by heartless sharpies? The callow American lieutenant, perhaps? Or the batty ex-officer from the fallen tsar's cavalry? Alas, Grete's story is only one of many — they include a murder mystery — in Pabst's fitfully engaging, visually arresting farrago.
What Weimar society needs, it seems, is another authority figure who looks good in a uniform — like young Berlin police officer Albert Holk in Joe May's glitzy ASPHALT (1929; December 17 at 7 pm). Played by Metropolis dreamboat Gustav Fröhlich, Albert looks like a blond superhero in his shiny boots and trick hat. And don't think would-be diamond thief Else Kramer (Betty Amann, who looks like a cross between Louise Brooks and Tony Curtis in Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot) doesn't notice. She seduces Albert into letting her go after he apprehends her — or is it he who's stolen her heart? Actually, Albert is a bit of mama's boy, and Else is a half-hearted femme fatale. Albert's dad, a grizzled cop himself, dons his own uniform and puts a stop to this nonsense before any serious damage can be done.
As its title suggests, love and regalia also play a role in Leontine Sagan's impeccable, passionate early talkie GIRLS IN UNIFORM (1931; December 17 at 9 pm). One of those girls in uniform — they're hideous striped things that look alarmingly like those that would later be worn in the death camps — is 14-and-a-half-year-old Manuela (Hertha Thiele), a newcomer at a despotic school for girls. With her mother dead, her officer father uninterested in her welfare, and her aunt unwilling to take charge, Manuela bonds with her enlightened and beautiful teacher, Fraülein von Bernburg (Dorothea Wieck).