Brimming with visual invention and breathless erotic angst, Sex in Chains
uniquely combines gorgeous cinematic craftsmanship with bold subject matter. Made at the peak of the German silent era, Sex in Chains
defines the Weimar era artistic freedom that would shortly fall prey to the Nazis. An astonishing mixture of love story, socially conscious expose and lurid melodrama, Sex in Chains
assuredly balances tender romance with candid erotica and uninhibited imagination with crisp realism. It's maybe the best silent film of its director and star Wilhelm Dieterle. He later became successful in Hollywood as William Dieterle, directing classics like The Life of Emile Zola
and A Portrait of Jennie
When Sommer (Dieterle) accidentally kills a nightclub patron caught harassing his wife Helene (Mary Johnson), he's sentenced to three years in prison. Inside prison, Sommer grapples with the realities of men separated from women but not from temptation, while outside Mary longs for her husband's reassuring caress. Denied the physical comfort promised in their marriage vows, the young newlyweds are driven to risk their future and find release where they can -- Sommer in the arms of a handsome fellow prisoner and Helene with the boss whose kindness becomes her only solace.
Remarkably at ease with his taboo subject matter, director Dieterle depicts the hothouse passions of Sex in Chains with ravishing black and white photography. Actor Dieterle gives a restrained, honest performance as a traditionally-minded young husband forced to test his marriage and his very sexuality. Though censored after its 1928 release, Sex in Chains has been restored to its original state-of-the-silent-film-art brilliance by the Filmmuseum Muenchen and is presented here for the first time on DVD.
Young and in love, newlyweds Helene (Mary Johnson) and Sommer (William Dieterle, who also directed) endure an enforced separation when the accidental death of a nightclub owner--who was harassing Helene and incurred her husband's wrath--lands Sommer in jail. There his sexual longing finds other outlets in the absence of women, namely with a handsome young cellmate. Meanwhile, Helene aches for the comfort of her husband's embrace, and she finds solace in the arms of her kind employer. Exemplary of the creative freedom and unfettered cultural mores of Germany's Weimar period, this gem of the silent period was later banned under Nazi law. Dieterle's treatment of his subject matter is remarkable both for its lack of inhibition and its mixture of melodrama and eroticism with genuine tenderness. The stunning photography, craft, and restrained, subtle performances make this film an enduring masterpiece.