Category Archives: Film

All Quiet on the Western Front

…geen nieuws van het westelijk front” by Henri Theunisse, published by N.V. Algemene Muziekhandel en Uitgeversmaatschappij van Esso en Co (Rotterdam, 1929) and illustrated by Haas.

“But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony–Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?” – Carl Maria Remarque

In 1929 the German novelist Carl Maria Remarque wrote his anti-war masterpiece Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front). This book about war’s physical horror was the inspiration for a Dutch song by Henri Theunisse. You can hear his wife Jeanne Horsten sing the song together with Louis Noiret.

The book follows a young German, barely nineteen, and his fellow German classmates who fight in the Great War. They joined the army voluntarily after listening to the patriotic speeches of their teacher. After weeks of fighting Paul Baumer realizes that war is not glorious nor honourable, and that it makes enemies of people who have no grudge against one another. Amidst the ravages of poison gas, artillery bombs, destroyed horses and lost limbs Paul faces sorrowful disillusionment.

Left: ‘Kriegers los‘ by Fritz Redl & Hermann Frey, published by Fülnhorn Verlag (Berlin) Right: ‘Vision…‘ by P. Jullien, published by Schott Frères (Brussels) and illustrated by Amedée Lynen (1917).

The book became an international bestseller. A year later, in 1930, it was adapted as an American film. It became one of the first talkies to win the Oscar for best picture. Because of the defeatist view on war’s meaningless slaughter the book and film were vilified by the emerging National Socialists In Germany. Goebbels led some Brownshirts into tossing stink bombs from the balcony of a Berlin theatre, throwing sneezing powder in the air and releasing white mice. These obnoxious pranks however went further by shouting insults to Jews and even beating people thought to be Jewish. The show was stopped. The next evenings rallies were organised against the film and similar riots erupted across Germany. The film was banned.

When I was in my early teens All Quiet on the Western Front was required reading at school. It moved me so much though that I couldn’t sleep for nights in a row. Since then I’ve been a committed pacifist.

My language teacher —who was responsible for the class’ reading list— was quite an appearance! She was a short, matronly lady with a heavily made-up face: white powder and ruby lips. Her hair was painted raven-black, which she wore in an imposing chignon. A heavy bosom completed her formidable look. At the time I thought her to be at least 100 years old. She held her husband, a now long forgotten poet and writer, in adulation. Her boundless admiration for him led her to tell us interminable stories about him and his works. Boring, but sometimes surprisingly interesting… Contrary to her old-fashioned demeanour, she was a feminist, a pacifist and atheist.

On the right my language teacher next to her husband, the poet and writer Paul Rogghé. Picture taken in 1948, some 20 years before I became one of her pupils. (source: AMVC-Letterenhuis, Antwerpen)


She not only taught us to appreciate literature but told us all about  Simone de Beauvoir’s Le deuxième sexe and the role of Bernadette Devlin in the student-led civil rights movement in 1968. At the same time, as she found us an unruly bunch of young teenage girls, she taught us about etiquette, which magazines were appropriate for young women, and how to decorate our future homes. After all, you wouldn’t want to live in a petty-bourgeois interior, now would you?

Speaking for myself, I’m inclined to say: mission accomplished Mrs R.! Except maybe for the etiquette thing.
This song is for you.

The Man Who Loved Women

‘Ombre et Lumière’ by Pokrass, published by Salabert (Paris, 1927) and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

This beautiful art deco cover by Roger de Valerio represents the Rowe Sisters. The twins Pauline & Betty Rowe started their career in France around 1924. They were one of the several twin-sister acts emulating the immensely successful Dolly Sisters.

Poster of the Rowe Sisters by Gesmar, 1925

They were known to their fans as ‘the Greyhounds of Paris’. But unlike the popular Dolly Sisters almost nothing is known about their personal lives, not even their nationality. According to newspapers of that time they were either American or English.

As stated by La Vie Parisienne in 1927, le tout Paris was “eagerly awaiting the return of the Rowe Sisters at the Casino de Paris after their success at the Alhambra in Brussels transformed them into stars.” But the leggy Rowe Sisters never became top of the bill and they stopped dancing when Betty married a hot actor and singer, Henri Garat in 1932. They met by chance in a train returning to Paris from the French Riviera and married shortly after. But she married the wrong guy.

‘C’est Malheureux d’être amoureux’, song from the ‘Rive Gauche’ Paramount film. Music by Ray Noble & lyrics by Marc Hély, sheet music published by Chappell (Paris, 1931) and illustrated by Kramer. It prominently shows the picture of a smoking Henri Garat.

Henri Garrat was known as “France’s most glittering matinee idol and film star” and was according to a then newspaper “the coqueluche of France, meaning that all the midinettes got whooping cough over him”.

Mon Amour quand je danse avec toi‘ waltz by Werner R. Heymann with French words byJean Boyer, published by Salabert (Paris, 1931) and illustrated by H. Cerutti.

A leading film actor in light romances during the 1930’s, Garat became a big star as the partner of Lilian Harvey. The cinema made him rich, very rich. He got more money than sense and led an opulent life with a yacht, several cars, a castle and too many friends who ate caviar by the spoonful at his table.

Chicago Tribune, April 1933

In the 1934 film Prince de Minuit, Betty Rowe got to play a small part together with her husband. He plays the role of a clerk in a shop selling records.

Interestingly the clip above shows —apart from a few stupefying film montages— that these shops offered a technical studio where you could cut your own record. In the next fragment of the same film Henri Garat sings Caricouli, a foxtrot composed by Maurice Yvain.

We also see Betty Rowe’s cameo: she’s a customer in the shop listening to him crooning. The clip ends with both dancing together on top of a giant revolving 78 rpm.
Betty’s career in film was short. She only appeared in minor roles in two other films. It is thanks to two stills of these other films that I was able to recognise her in the clip above. Makes me feel a top-noch archival sleuth, ahum.

Left: Betty Rowe in ‘Le Messager’, 1937. Right: Betty Rowe in ‘La souris bleue’ with her husband Henry Garat and Monique Rolland, 1936.

Betty and Henri’s marital bliss was short-lived. Just as he sang in the film ‘Un Soir de Réveilllon‘:

J’aime les femmes, j’aime les femmes
Voilà mon vice, ma faiblesse et mon défaut.

in real life our handsome jeune premier also loved women.  And these in turn found it hard to resist his charms…

Even while Betty was pregnant there were continuous rumours of affairs with other women. No wonder that five years later their marriage was over.

Henri Garat would marry four times. And ultimately his extravagant lifestyle, his consumption of cocaine, his philandering, his marriages including one with a ‘Russian countess’, his divorces and also fraud brought him ruin. His stardom started to wane. As a result he suffered from depression and had to follow a detox. He opened a restaurant and a toy store, but it didn’t work out. At the end of his life he was discreetly assisted by La Rou Tourne, a charity for the unfortunates from the world of theatre. Supported by this association Henri Garat became a pathetic attraction in theatres. He even toured with a circus. Alas too often, the public didn’t recognise the big film star anymore. Henri Garat died in poverty aged 57.

Still from the film ‘Il est charmant’ with Henri Garat and Meg Lemonnier.

Pals, just pals

Partitions musicales ilustre par Würth pour la chanson 'Les Copains' (1929)
Pals, just Pals‘, by Dave Dreyer & Herman Ruby, french lyrics of ‘Des Copains’ by René Nazelles. Sheet music published by Publications Francis-Day s.a. (Paris, 1929). Cover illustration by Würth.

I am often surprised by the direct power of many covers designed by Würth. The drawing for the ‘Pals, just Pals‘ fox-trot is deceivingly simple. With a few elements, sober colouring and small gestures the image relays the mild mood of an intimate and relaxed conversation between two long-time friends. Or do you imagine the two naval officers being more than friends?

The US version of the ‘Pals, just Pals’ song published by Irving Berlin.

Pals, just Pals‘ is the theme song of the silent film Submarine directed by Frank Capra in 1928. It tells the story of the friendship between two sailors in the US Navy. The nautical best friends accidentally pursue the same woman, and through this triangular love situation their friendship comes to an end.

The film comes to the heart of the matter when both ex-friends get involved —one as a victim the other as the saviour— in a submarine disaster. The denouement of this tragic experience is that their old friendship will renew, and for the better!
The film is inspired on the catastrophe of the U.S. submarine S-51 in 1925. There even exists a dedicated webpage about this accident at sea. The one and a half hours Capra film is on YouTube (type ‘submarino‘ for your search) but a short extract of the movie will do in order to appreciate its male flavour.

For the rest of this post, I will entertain you with other masculine friendships.

Het Eerstgeboortefeest‘ (by J. C. Kerckvoorde & S. De Haas, published by Den Boer in Middelburg, s.d.) and ‘Kwik en Kwak het lustige Vriendenpaar‘ (by a certain ‘Johan’, published by Alsbach, G. & Co in Amsterdam, s.d.)
Jolly Boys‘ by Frank Thurban. Published by Carl Gehrmans Musikförlag in Stockholm, s.d., and illustrated by Gunnar Widholm.
Camarada‘ tango by F. Canaro, published by Francis Salabert (Paris, 1923) and illustrated by Roger De Valerio.
Låt oss vara kamrater‘ by Helan (Helin) and Gösta Stevens. Skandinavisk Production (Stockholm, 1932). Illustrator: Moje Aslund
Robert Macaire (in: Avec le sourire – Revue)’ by Maurice Yvain. Editions Francis Salabert (Paris, 1921). Cover illustration by Roger De Valerio
Var lugn för mej (Sjömans-Shimmy)‘ by Victor Corzilius & Berco. Musikaliska Knuten (Stockholm, 1925), illustrated by Jacob.
Bleus et Anciens‘ by Guy Dumay Published by F. Pech & Cie (Bordeaux, 1902) and beautifully illustrated by Bernard Naudin.
Briqmolle et son camarade‘ by Ant. Queyriaux & Chicot, published by Emile Bénoit – Au Métronome (Paris, s.d.). Cover illustrated by Charles Gangloff.

Now these two last gentlemen have a very Gilbert and George attitude. The perfect reason for us to look at a short documentary on their Living Sculpture performances.
The song ‘Underneath The Arches‘ is at 1:30. How very moving it is to hear and see them singing this 1932 Flanagan and Allen ‘Great Depression’ tune.