“TO NEW SHORES”— A Surprise from 1937

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“To New Shores” (“Zu neuen Ufern”)

A Surprise from 1937

Amos Lassen

“To New Shores” is quite a surprise—a film from 1937 directed by the wonderful Douglas Sirk (as Detlef Sierck that still holds its own. This is the movie that made Hollywood notice Sirk even though it would take him many years before he made his first American movie, “Hitler’s Madman” here. It is set in Victorian London around 1846, where a jeering theatre crowd brings together stage chanteuse Gloria Vane (Zarah Leander) and officer Albert Finsbury (Willy Birgel), on his way to Australia but not before forging a friend’s money order. By the time anyone discovered his deed, Albert was already gone. Gloria took the blame in order to save his honor—she was his lover but she paid a heavy price for this and was sent to the Aussie prison-workshop of Paramatta for her trouble. When she meets Albert again it was in Sydney and he was already involved with both a doctor’s wife and the governor’s daughter.

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Gloria waits for a husband to get her out of prison all the while still hoping to see her true love one more time. Sirk was fascinated by woman’s romantic anxieties and this German melodrama is traditional Sirk. Zarah Leander plays the cabaret singer in 1840’s London who takes the rap when her lover passes a bad check and gets deported to a prison in the new colony of Australia. There’s a great deal of music performed by Leander in the wrenchingly emotional style that turned her into an icon for German gay men much like Judy Garland was here in America.

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 It was not until Finsbury was gone that the forgery was discovered. Gloria’s part in the crime cost her 7 years in prison in Sidney. From prison she sends a note to Finsbury, asking for help, but he doesn’t answer. The settler Henry Hoyer falls in love with Gloria. As this is a chance for her to leave prison, she agrees, but runs away from him immediately. When she finds out that Finsbury is going to marry the Governor’s daughter, she is heartbroken. Finsbury finds her and wants to run away with her and so on as you can imagine.

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“At New Shores” brings together comedy, drama and musical but basically it was a vehicle for an eminent actress, the name that aroused certain ‘ill feelings’ even for monstrous Goebbels himself, Zarah Leander.

However, it is not the women who most suffers but Sir Albert, a noble man with good prospects in life. Birgel gives quite a performance of a character who had strong personal conflicts and was self-destructive. Even though we see him from Gloria’s pretentious perspective, he manages to have a vibrant personality. Leander’s music is melancholy and, like the man she loves, filled with contradictions. In one of her songs, she sings about standing in the rain drawing a clear metaphor to tormented states of mind and heart.

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This is an interesting film to see as well as an important work of art from the historical and dramatic standpoint. The hidden meaning within the name ‘Gloria’ along with the surprising and jubilant conclusion at the finale still lead the viewer towards the new shores of classical movie viewing and its interpretation. Leander was the queen of melodramatic suffering and no one did it like she did. Gloria Vane, as seen here, is a scandalous singer in Victorian times; even if she had not been (unfairly ) accused of forgery ,they would have had her performance censored anyway.

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There are all kinds of strange and crazy situations here: the show in London; the parade of the fiancées; the romantic suicide; the bride all in white, waiting for her groom and the final scene that you will have to see for yourself. 

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Sirk does not forget his sense of humor : while the males are looking for their spouses in Paramata ,one of them complains about heat while another one thinks young men are degenerate people for they do not appreciate heavy (or plump, if you will) women.

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