Out on Screen -- Before Stonewall
Long ago and far away, these films were made by maverick, courageous filmmakers who would not be silenced. Some of them risked their careers, and their lives, in order to make their voices heard. Each baby step they took helped lead to the visibility we enjoy today.
Different From the Others (1919)
Before Hitler came to power, German LGBT people enjoyed unprecedented freedoms during the Weimar Era. In spite of Paragraph 175, the German law which criminalized homosexuality, 1920s Berlin was a gay and bohemian mecca. "Different From the Others" was co-written by Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, who’s Institute For Sexual Science was a voice in the medical community, which called for sexual tolerance.
It’s an intense drama about a Paul Korner, a famous, classical violinist who falls in love with a young male pupil, and is promptly blackmailed by a sleazy extortionist.
Conrad Veidt, who that same year starred in "The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari," the first feature length horror film, gives a strong performance as Korner in this, cinema’s first sympathetic portrayal of a gay man. In later years Veidt worked in Hollywood, appearing in the classic "Casablanca" (1942).
"Different From the Others" is available on DVD via Kino Lorber Films.
Madchen in Uniform (1931)
The dark cloud of the Third Reich was looming on the horizon when "Madchen (Maidens) in Uniform" opened in German cinemas. This film version of a popular, if controversial, play featured the stage cast.
Set in a girl’s boarding school, "Madchen in Uniform" is about a young student who falls in love with a female teacher. Although the teacher doesn’t return the romantic feelings, she encourages the young lady to embrace who she is and defends her to the stern headmistress.
During the Nazi era, the film was ordered destroyed, but fortunately a few prints survived. It can now be viewed on You Tube in its entirety, in German with English subtitles.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
October is Halloween, and so we remember James Whale’s magnificent sequel to his 1931 classic. Whale, a gay man, used the man made monster (Boris Karloff) to express his own loneliness and frustration about living in a time when "people didn’t talk about such things."
While the first film was a deadly serious chiller, "Bride" is a camp masterpiece. Dr. Frankenstein (Colin Clive), is attempting to distance himself from the murderous creature he created. Dr. Praetorius, his old medical school professor, blackmails the doc into creating a woman. As played by Ernest Thesiger, Praetorious is a screaming, effeminate queen who gazes lovingly at his much younger pupil. He also looks at Baroness Frankenstein (Valerie Hobson) with the kind of comic revulsion that could only be a bitchy queen thinking about heterosexual sex.
When the lady monster, the Bride (Elsa Lanchester), is revealed, she’s dressed in a long, flowing gown, her Afro hairdo streaked white. Her gestures are dramatic. For all intents and purposes, she’s a drag queen. The entire film, which is filled with morbid, graveyard humor, is played at a hysterically over the top fever pitch.
Now viewed as Whale’s coming out film, "Bride of Frankenstein" is a grand entertainment.
It’s on DVD & Blu Ray.
Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
Gloria Holden is wonderful as the Count’s daughter, who’s repulsed by the blood she’s forced to drink in order to survive. She spends much of the film trying to escape her family curse.
1930s audiences must have had heart attacks when the Countess, pretending to be an artist, picks up a young girl. "I’m doing a study of a young girl’s head and shoulders," says Lady Dracula. She stares lustfully at her victim’s neck & bosom as the girl dutifully removes her top!
In other scenes, the Countess feasts upon men, making her the first bisexual character not only in horror films, but in Hollywood films in general.
The film can be found on the five film DVD box set "Dracula: The Legacy Collection."
Tea and Sympathy (1956)
Based on a 1953 play, "Tea and Sympathy" is about Tom, a slightly effeminate young man (John Kerr, repeating his Broadway role) who prefers classical music and the theater to all the "manly" things boys are "supposed" to enjoy.
Under pressure, he attempts to lose his virginity with a prostitute, but the encounter is a fiasco. Tom attempts suicide.
The play made Tom’s homosexuality clear, but the film de-gayed the story, even tacking on a new ending. The film features a famous line that many drag queens have borrowed: "Years from now, when you talk about this -- and you will -- be kind."
Voodoo Island (1958)