Combustible Celluloid
Search for Posters
Own it:
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Brigitte Borchert, Wolfgang von Waltershausen, Christl Ehlers, Annie Schreyer, Kurt Gerron, Valeska Gert, Heinrich Gretler, Ernö Verebes, Erwin Splettstößer
Written by: Billy Wilder, Curt Siodmak
Directed by: Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 74
Date: 02/04/1930

People on Sunday (1930)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Day of Leisure

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Since the early days, cinema has been placed in a box. Fiction films are fiction films. Documentaries are documentaries. A director is a director. But as early as 1930 the glorious, silent-era People on Sunday, newly released in a beautiful Criterion Blu-Ray, happily disputed all those claims. It's a defiant combination of realism and fiction, made by a collective of rising filmmakers, resulting in something effortless, endlessly interesting, and almost totally unique.

First up, there's the unbelievable roster of talent, all of them Germans who eventually came to Hollywood to escape Hitler's regime, though which jobs were performed by which person seems to be up for debate. Most certainly one of the directors was Robert Siodmak, perhaps best known for The Killers (1946). And just as likely, one of the writers was Billy Wilder, who needs no introduction. Robert's brother Curt, best known as the writer of The Wolf Man (1941) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943), was probably a co-writer or a co-director or both. Fred Zinnemann, a double Oscar-winner for From Here to Eternity (1953) and A Man for All Seasons (1966), was a cinematographer or assistant cinematographer. Eugen Schüfftan, who created effects for Metropolis (1927), was another cinematographer; he would go on to win an Oscar for The Hustler (1961).

Best of all was Edgar G. Ulmer (The Black Cat, Detour), who was probably a producer and/or a co-director. Aside from working with all these guys, Ulmer also worked with Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau. And yet, despite all these famous, powerful friends, he had the most curious career of all, laboring in ultra-cheap "B" movies for most of his time in Hollywood. Managing to rise above the wretched conditions of his films, he nonetheless turned in many hardscrabble works of art. Though whether or not this skill served him on People on Sunday is probably a moot point. All of these compatriots probably contributed in some ways to the writing and/or directing.

The movie begins by asserting that all of its major players are not actors; they are introduced by their real-life jobs. We meet wine dealer Wolfgang, who spies the pretty Christl, a film extra, on the street. He invites her for a refreshment and asks if she would like to go on an outing the next day, Sunday. We also meet tubby taxi driver Erwin, and his girlfriend, model Annie. They quarrel about going to the movies, and then about several other things; Annie spends most of the movie lying in bed. Erwin joins his buddy Wolfgang on the outing the next day, and Christl brings her friend, Brigitte, a salesgirl in a record shop. The four take the train to Nikolassee, where they spend a gorgeous day swimming, picnicking, listening to records, napping, and romping through the woods. Wolfgang switches his flirting from Christl to Brigitte, and the day ends on an ambiguous note. A title tells us that four million people wait for next Sunday.

In-between these segments, our filmmakers drop in little "documentary"-like vignettes, showing more ordinary people going about their Sunday. Many have their pictures taken, or mill about the train station. These little asides give the impression of a more widespread "Sunday," the feel of an entire country spending its day together. Of course, the events of the day add up to more than just a carefree time. Erwin is forever overshadowed by his sulking, sleeping girlfriend at home (and their curious, bickering relationship), and Wolfgang isn't happy unless he's dominating one or the other of the remaining women. The men take their power for granted in this movie.

People on Sunday also tries to get away from regular movies by showing a quarrel between Erwin and Annie. They are both movie buffs, apparently, and have decorated their apartment with stills of movie stars. During a fight, Erwin rips up a photo of a hunky star (presumably hers), and she burns a photo of a starlet (presumably his). Greta Garbo is mentioned by name, as well as shown prominently in a still, though this couldn't be less of a Garbo vehicle.

Running only 73 minutes, People on Sunday packs a great many ideas and themes into its little frame, but also finds time for relaxing and enjoyment the simple pleasures of the day. It's a movie of sunlight, water, trees, and a breeze, and yet it's a movie unused to such things. It's a curiosity, difficult to define, but all the more important for it.

Criterion's Blu-Ray comes with two music scores, one by the Mont Alto Orchestra and one by Elena Kats-Chernin, performed by the Czech Film Orchestra. Other extras include Weekend am Wannsee, Gerald Koll's 2000 documentary about the film, featuring interviews with star Brigitte Borchert and writer Curt Siodmak; and Ins Blaue hinein, a thirty-six-minute short from 1931 by Schüfftan. A liner notes booklet features an essay by film scholar Noah Isenberg and reprints by scriptwriter Billy Wilder and director Robert Siodmak.

Movies Unlimtied