Alraune (1928 film)

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Directed by Henrik Galeen
Produced by Helmut Schreiber
Written by Hanns Heinz Ewers (novel)
Henrik Galeen
Starring Brigitte Helm
Paul Wegener
Music by Willy Schmidt-Gentner
Cinematography Franz Planer
Release date(s)
  • January 25, 1928 (1928-01-25)
Running time 108mins
Country Weimar Republic
Language silent film
German intertitles

Alraune (also called Unholy Love, Mandrake, or A Daughter of Destiny) is a 1928 German silent science fiction horror film directed by Henrik Galeen and starring Brigitte Helm in which a prostitute is artificially inseminated with the semen of a hanged man. The story is based upon the legend of Alraune and the powers of the mandrake root to impregnate women. In this version the symbiosis caused by the sexual union between the human and the root causes the girl to kill all men who fall in love with her.

The film was produced by Ama-Film GmbH and distributed by Ama-Film GmbH in Germany and Ufa Film Company in the United States with English intertitles. The art direction was by Max Heilbronner and Walter Reimann with still photos by Walter Lichtenstein



The story begins when a rich Professor specializing in genetics decides to conduct an experiment of impregnating a woman of low social status with a mandrake, which is a plant believed by legend to sprout from the semen of hanged prisoners. He asks his young nephew, Franz, to obtain a woman from the "scum of the society". Franz reluctantly retrieves a prostitute, and the experiement is performed on her.

Alraune grows up to become a beautiful woman with a corrupted soul. The Professor, who decided to adopt Alraune as his own daughter, sends her to a convent to study. Although she was sheltered from the influences of the outside world, Alraune grew up quite promiscuous and troublesome. She sneaks boyfriends into the convent and plays pranks on the nuns. Using her charm, she convinces her boyfriend to steal from his parents and run away with her. He steals the money from his father and boards a train with Alraune.

The professor then meets with his nephew Franz and shows him a journal, with details of Alraune's development over the years. Franz is appalled and warns his uncle about the potential consequences of violating the laws of nature. After Franz leaves, the Professor's servant gives him the letter from the convent informing him that his "daughter" is nowhere to be found.

Inside the train, Alraune exchanges meaningful glances with a stranger, much to the dismay of her boyfriend. She attracts the attention of the circus magician, who charms her by performing magic tricks. He puts a mouse on Alraune's leg to incite surprise, but she shows no fear. The sight of the magician touching Alraune's leg prompts her jealous boyfriend to attack the magician, leading to a scuffle.

After months of searching for Alraune, the Professor tracks her to a circus, where she is performing as the magician's assistant. Alraune is seen flirting with the lion tamer, causing the magician to become jealous. We also see her boyfriend helplessly looking after her, but cannot do anything to win her back. The Professor sees her performing and decides to confront Alraune in her dressing room. Alraune is obviously afraid of her "father" and after a few reprimands, decides to leave the circus behind and go back with her father. We then see her boyfriend clutching Alraune's circus costume and crying his heart out.

Alraune was for a time happy with her new life living with her "father" who showers her with gifts in a place where nobody knows about her previous indiscretions. She is introduced to the inner circles of the society through her father's influence and money and the professor continues to chronicle Alraune's life. Her "father" secretly acknowledges that he has fallen for her and wonders if her promiscuous nature was due to her mother's promiscuosity. When a Viscount, who is enamored by Alraune, asks the Professor for her hand in marriage, he turns him down. Alraune is heartbroken to hear this and tells the Viscount that she'll run away with him instead.

On the night when she was to meet the Viscount to elope, Alraune finds the Professor's journal and becomes angry at her "father" for having lied to her. Wanting a chance to exact her revenge, she tells Viscount that she has decided to stay with her father. As time goes on, she incites her father's jealousy by publicly flirting with men at parties. She continues to make the Professor jealous until he decides that they should leave for a new town. Alraune continues to attract men and seduce the Professor until he is at the point of relenting. Finally, Alraune tells him that she knows about her life's secret. He is delighted to know this, as now he can finally pursue his love and obsession for Alraune. She later meets with Franz, whom she was able to charm as well. The Professor realizes that he loves Alraune too much to let her go, so he writes in his journal that she either stays with him or he will kill her.

The next night, the Professor and Alraune go to a gambling club. The Professor finds out that Alraune's affluent lifestyle has depleted his financial resources and he asks Alraune to join him in a gambling table, believing the mandrake legend that whoever possesses it will have good luck. After a long winning streak, Alraune leaves the professor in the middle of a round and goes home to pack her things and escape. The Professor loses his winnings and returns home to find Alraune packing. He asks her to stay, sell her remaining jewels for money and move to a new place where they can find happiness. She tells him that she will, but not with him. The Professor grabs a knife and chases Alraune around the house, but Franz arrives in time stop him. Franz takes Alraune away, leaving the Professor condemned to a life of loneliness and insanity.

Critical reaction[edit]

The film has received a generally more positive reaction than the other versions based on the same myth. it has been described by leading science fiction author David Wingrove in his Science Fiction Source Book as "a frightening, erotic and highly emotional film with fine cinematography".

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