“You can consider yourself lucky — you’ve got a charming little wife.”
A side-show manager (Emil Jannings) leaves his wife (Maly Delschaft) and infant child to run away with a beautiful orphan (Lya De Putti), and they begin a new life together as trapeze artists. Their happiness is compromised, however, when a world-famous performer (Warwick Ward) asks them to join his team, and Ward seduces De Putti.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Carnivals and Circuses
- Femmes Fatales
- Flashback Films
- German Films
- Love Triangle
- Silent Films
Directed by E.A. Dupont, Variety — a.k.a. Jealousy (a more fitting title) — was one of the most popular films in the world the year it was released, though it was notoriously censored and cut down severely in length before American audiences were allowed to view it (see the All Movie review for more information). It remains a little-seen yet engaging tale of betrayal and jealousy, set within the seamy-by-default world of carnivals and circuses, with one particularly hair-raising scene taking place during a death-defying trapeze act. Jannings is likely best known for his central role in The Blue Angel (1930) with Marlene Dietrich, and there are certainly parallels between the two sorry protagonists, each of whom allow seduction by a young temptress to lead to their downfall. Dupont, working with D.P. Karl Freund, films the story with Expressionist flair, incorporating hints of neo-realism as well (as in the shot of the downtrodden young women Jannings manages in his sideshow).
Note: Interestingly, Jannings is presented here as somewhat of a feminized caretaker, given that we watch him changing his infant son’s diaper (surely one of the earliest instances of this on screen!), and in general taking more ownership over his son’s well-being than one would expect; it’s unfortunate that all narrative threads relating to his former marriage and family are dropped once he runs away with De Putti.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Fine central performances
- Expressionistic direction
- Karl Freund’s cinematography
Yes, as a fine silent melodrama. Listed as a film with Historical importance in the back of Peary’s book.