The Third Sex (1957)

VEIT HARLAN

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB

Original Title: Anders als du und ich

Alternate Title: Bewildered Youth

West Germany, 1957. . Screenplay by , based on an idea by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .  Podcast:  Bad Gay Movies.

Today it plays as a corny effort to address a social concern, but at the time it was made, this film (released under more than one cut and title in Austria and Germany, later dubbed in English for American release) was hotly debated for what was considered its tolerant attitude towards the taboo subject of homosexuality.

It opens on a court case where what appears to be a bourgeois woman is being charged with pimping out her son. We flash back to the details of the case, which begin when the woman and her husband criticize their son Karl for the inordinate amount of time he is spending with fellow high school student Manfred. The boys are very chummy with each other and like to spend time at the home of Boris, an older mentor who introduces them to fine art and avant-garde organ music.

Dad gets the cops on Boris but they can do nothing to a man who has never had anyone accuse him of any crime, so Mom decides to convince her housemaid Gerda to seduce Karl and bring him back in line with the natural way…with unintended, disastrous consequences.

The idea that this film was considered too tolerant is ridiculous today, the director (who, incidentally, was more than a decade earlier responsible for pro-Nazi propaganda like Jud Suss) clearly associates homosexuality with decadence and shoots Boris like a horror movie villain, sinister angles and otherworldly lighting and all.

The story’s conclusion reinforces heterosexuality as the only healthy option for someone who wants to find peace and prosperity, but to be fair to the film within the context of its time, it doesn’t have the paranoid, panic-stricken bite of contemporary American PSAs, and an argument could be made (to no one’s benefit, really) that its relatively sanguine reaction to the topic is a tiny step in the right direction.

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