I Am a Camera (1955)

I Am a Camera (1955)

“I’ve been most divinely chaste!”

In 1931 Berlin, hedonistic, penniless nightclub singer Sally Bowles (Julie Harris) — living with aspiring young writer Chris Isherwood (Laurence Harvey) — wracks up terrible debt during a night on the town, and allows a wealthy American (Ron Randell) to wine and dine her. Meanwhile, a poor friend (Anton Diffring) hoping to marry into money woos one of Harvey’s students (Shelley Winters), but soon finds himself falling authentically in love with her.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Flashback Films
  • Gold Diggers
  • Julie Harris Films
  • Laurence Harvey Films
  • Shelley Winters Films
  • Writers

South African-born Henry Cornelius — director of Passport to Pimlico (1949) and Genevieve (1953) — helmed this adaptation of John Van Druten’s 1951 play, best known as one of the sources for Bob Fosse’s Cabaret (1972). Given the time of its release, it covers some rather scandalous material — including pre-marital sex, promiscuity, and abortion — thus leading America’s Production Code Administration to deny its approval of the finished film. Those familiar with Liza Minnelli’s iconic, Oscar-winning portrayal of Sally Bowles in Cabaret will likely find it jarring to see Harris (so different looking!) in the role, but she’s ultimately convincing here and helps anchor the film in wackiness.

Indeed, the entire affair has an air of comedy to it that underplays (while not entirely ignoring) the risk of rising Nazism:

What’s primarily missing from this iteration of the story is any hint of Isherwood’s sexuality or intimate involvement with either Sally or the character played by Randell. Meanwhile, Diffring and Winters’ romance is simply glossed over quickly, and not given much weight or significance.

While this film remains notable for taking risks most others at the time wouldn’t dare consider, it’s only must-see viewing for those interested in Isherwood’s stories.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Julie Harris as Sally Bowles

Must See?
No; this one isn’t must see. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “I Am a Camera (1955)

  1. Skip it.

    It’s sort of (unintentionally) hilarious early on when – as Isherwood – Harvey tells us in his narration, “I’m a confirmed bachelor.”… instead of “I’m a gay man.” Not, of course, that he could have gotten away with that in 1955. Even in the Broadway musical version (‘Cabaret’) in 1966, the Isherwood character (named Cliff) was heterosexual. …Sigh. Still, it’s funny.

    But just about everything is downhill from there. No wonder Isherwood hated this film. He called it ” a truly shocking and disgraceful mess”, mostly blaming John Collier’s screenplay (which had been fraught with censorship problems; what was ok on-stage was not ok on-screen).

    A miscast Harvey plays opposite what Isherwood called a “misdirected” Harris (otherwise, he didn’t mind her as much). But I feel about Harris’ early screen performances as I do about Joanne Woodward’s: it took her a couple of films – until ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight’ – before she began to tone things down and act more naturally for the camera.

    On the other hand, Randell is rather adorable (as he often is) but he’s not around all that long.

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