Movie Review: Little Man, What Now?

Last week I reviewed Hans Fallada’s 1932 novel about a young couple enduring hard times in late-Weimar Germany. The book was made into an American movie, released in 1934, which I watched last night. Here is the original NYT review of the the film.

The movie generally follows the book, with one huge exception. At the end of the book, the unemployed Sonny (who has come into Berlin to pick up his dole payment) is taken by a policeman for an undesirable tramp and is shoved off the sidewalk. Utterly in despair, he returns home and is at first unable to confess his humiliation to Lammchen. But when he finally does, he is lifted up and given hope by her love and understanding. In the movie, Sonny is also shoved by the cop…but when he returns home, his friend Mr Heilbutt has arrived to tell the couple that he has moved to Holland, started a business there, and is offering Sonny a job. The couple’s problems are solved.

Psychologically, the messages of these two alternative endings are about as different as you can get.

Margaret Sullavan plays Lammchen and Douglass Montgomery is Sonny: I thought Sullavan came off as much too elegant for a working-class girl who lacks self-confidence because she has been told all her life that she is “not pretty.” Alan Hale is good as the roguish but sometimes benign Jachmann. Muriel Kirkland overacts the heck out of Marie Kleinholz, the undesirable daughter of Sonny’s employer–Donald Haines does a much better job in the very minor role of the employer’s son. The best acting in the movie is by Christian Rub as a cart-driver and furniture-maker who becomes the couple’s landlord in Berlin…the screenwriters completely transformed his character from the extremely unpleasant individual he was in the book (I believe the phrase “drunken animal” was used) to a man who is wistful, quirky, and very helpful. In this case, the change from the book works well.

Overall, I thought the movie could have been better done. For example, at the end of the book there is a flashback from the cold and starry night outside the couple’s residence to an earlier and warmer starry night on the beach where they first made love. This could have been given a very nice cinematic treatment even within the constraints of 1934 Hollywood. There were other missed opportunities. The film is definitely worth seeing, especially if you’re interested in the era, but I think the book deserved better.

There have also been several German movies made from Little Man, What Now?…not sure whether any of them are available with English subtitles.

2 thoughts on “Movie Review: <em>Little Man, What Now?</em>”

  1. Margaret Sullavan spelled her name that way. She was the main squeeze of Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda for a while. She broke Fonda’s heart when she dumped him. Quite a hot number personally.

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