The pearl of Douglas Sirk's UFA period, and incidentally the one that shipped him off to new shores of his own -- namely Hollywood, though it would be years before Hitler's Madman, his first American project, actually materialized. The beginning is Victorian London circa 1846, where a jeering theatre crowd brings together stage chanteuse Zarah Leander and officer Willy Birgel, on his way to Australia but not before forging a friend's money order. He's already off by the time the act gets uncloaked; to save her lover's honor, Leander takes the blame and gets a one-way ticket to the Aussie prison-workshop of Paramatta for her trouble, given a properly Brechtian farewell by a raggedy warbler right out of Weill outside the courtroom. The next time they meet in Sydney, Birgel is juggling a doctor's wife and the governor's daughter, and Leander, unduly glamorous in her prisoner duds, waits for a husband to get her out of chains while still hoping to see her true love one more time. David Thomson pointed out the striking similarities in plot and setting to Hitchcock's Under Capricorn, yet Sirk (still dubbed Detlef Sierck) has always been closer to Max Ophüls, with nearly as densely latticed a web of mirrors, curtains, doorways and veils. Like Ophüls, Sirk has his steely enquiry into societal corseting centered upon a woman's romantic anxieties, burning brightly long after her would-be savior's gallantry has guiltily wilted and, as result, becoming a pawn in the "gentleman" games men in uniforms play. Just as the British order in Australia totters precariously on colonial oppression, so must a woman's threatening passion be pinned down and controlled by social norms -- in a finale that looks ahead to the director's subtle subversion of accepted American mores in the '50s, Leander's marriage to handsome farmer Viktor Staal, ostensibly a happy ending orchestrated to a celestial chorus, marks in fact the final step in her entrapment. With Edwin Juergenssen, and Carola Höhn. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce