The Doll (1919)

Or Lancelot and the Real Doll. The baron wants his fairly hopeless nephew to marry to keep the family bloodline going, but young Lancelot has a… problem with women. Fleeing his many prospective brides for the safety of an abbey, the greedy monks (impoverished and happy to relieve Lancelot of his substantial dowry) suggest an alternative to a real woman, i.e. a life-size doll. Conveniently, the doll-maker Dr Hilarius has just the thing, a doll “of solid character” modelled on his own daughter Ossi. But when the doll gets broken, the real Ossi has to fill in for her, and, funnily enough, complications ensue. If the above plot rundown weren’t enough of an indicator, we know from the get-go that there’s going to be bugger all naturalism in this film when Lubitsch himself appears as the “stage manager,” setting up a model set with obviously fake trees and the like before cutting to an equally if not more fake life-size version of the model. There are other examples of this sort of thing throughout the film, my favourite being the pantomime horses that draw Lancelot’s carriage (and get a line of dialogue near the end). Apart from the amusing artifice of the decor, and just like the last film, The Doll gets a lot of its charm from Ossi Oswalda, who seems pretty much exactly in tune with the material and hits the right notes all the way through as the real girl pretending to be a Real Girl, as it were. It is, perhaps, stretched very slightly thin over its running time (a bit over an hour) and might’ve fared better at the tighter three-reel duration of I Don’t Want to Be a Man, but it’s not exactly a painful experience at that, least of all while la Ossi’s on screen posing as her own mechanical clone…

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