27 May 2019
By Greg Denieffe
Greg Denieffe is still hunting down old rowing films and their promo posters.
Released in 1932 and set in an exclusive Swiss school for young girls, 8 Mädels im Boot (8 Girls in a Boat) is a German film about a women’s rowing crew with its own clubhouse. One of the girls in the crew, Christa, announces she is pregnant and finds herself torn between two men, her father and her fiancé who both want the child aborted; and the rest of the crew who want her to keep it and bring it up at the club. I haven’t seen the film, but one review I read says that the men get their way, at least initially. Another says it is a musical. A 1932 German musical about an unplanned pregnancy with a bit of rowing on the side – all set in an economic depression. No wonder Germans turned to the Bohemian Corporal to MGGA.
This is a remarkable storyline for a 1932 film. What I find even more remarkable is that the film was remade… twice! In 1934, the American film Eight Girls in a Boat was released and in 1958 a Dutch film company released the same story under the title of Jenny. Thankfully, neither remake was a musical.
I have watched the American and Dutch versions of the film so that HTBS readers don’t have to. Like my previous indulgencies of rowing films these ‘three ladies’ give rise to better poster-art than scenes showing the art of rowing. That is not to say that the films have no worth per se. The fact that they were funded, made and released to the general public is noteworthy in-it-self and deserving of their place on the ever expanding HTBS database of ‘classic rowing films’.
In 1934, Paramount Pictures in Hollywood, California, released the first remake, simply replicating the title translated into English as “8 Girls in a Boat”. Taking on the role of Christa Storm is Dorothy Wilson who later worked with Harold Lloyd. In 1936, she married scriptwriter Lewis R. Foster, whom she had met while filming 8 Girls. The IMDb (Internet Movie Database) reports that Wilson wasn’t the first choice for the lead role as according to her co-star in the film, Baby Peggy, Jean Rouverol was originally cast as Christa, but quit the film after she refused to perform a diving stunt. Charlotte Henry was then cast as Christa but quit for the same reason. A stunt double was eventually hired to do the risky scene.
Of course, there is risky and there is risqué. As 8 Girls was released in the brief Pre-Code Hollywood time frame, the director was able to include some scenes that would be classed as inappropriate just a few months after its release. Christa’s nemesis throughout the film is the crew captain or coach, Hannah, played quite fiercely by Kay Johnson. In the changing room, she weights the girls, one after the other, and this gives the director a chance to take advantage of the Pre-Code ‘dropping your towel’ regulations. This is quickly followed by the shower scene but thankfully the girls have put their swimwear back on. Promise me that if you watch the film that you won’t feel sorry for Hannah when the inevitable happens.
One evening after Christa has returned late after meeting with her boyfriend, David, the other girls sing her ‘This Little Piggie Went to Market’: This little piggy had roast beef takes on a completely new meaning and American audiences could relive the experience as the song was released as a 10” gramophone record.
Generally, the storyline mirrors the original film. A cinema programme for the Paramount Theatre in Leeds has the catchy headline “Too Innocent!”; sets the background to the action with “No Men Allowed. Men were forbidden to these romance-hungry girls – so all they thought about was MEN!…” and describes the film as ‘A vigorous and fearless treatment of a daring theme, with Dorothy Wilson, Kay Johnson and [a] mighty cast of Beautiful Young Girls. The Picture that staggered London and New York.’ What Yorkshireman wouldn’t want to see that?
In 1958, a Dutch company, N. V. Standaardfilms, remade the film and changed the characters’ names: Christa Storm became Jenny Roders (me thinks Roders would be a good name for the lead role in a future Swedish remake); David Perrin became Ed van Rijn and Hannah became Greet. The Dutch decided not to call the film 8 Meisjes in een Boot, preferring the title Jenny.
Jenny is played by Ellen van Hemert (still alive at time of writing) who is the daughter of the film’s director Willy van Hemert. The film is in Dutch and is free to watch on YouTube here. The video blurb has the following summary of the plot (I suspect it has lost a little in translation):
“Jenny” is the feature-film debut of the television Director: Willy van Hemert, and was completely shot in Amsterdam. This first full-length Dutch feature film in colour is an adaptation of the German film “Acht Mädels im Boot” (1932) by Erich Waschneck. The “Mädels” are competitive rowers whom Jenny hopes to defeat in the “women’s eight” rowing matches. In the meantime, Jenny falls for an art dealer who gets her pregnant, which she does not want. What should she do? With the help of her friends from the rowing club Nereus, her coach, and her father, everything turns out okay. The rowing club wins the race, and Jenny’s sweetheart reconciles with her.
A noticeable change to the plot is that in Jenny, the girls are not at a residential college/finishing school and they live at home, rowing out of a beautiful old boathouse. I cannot identify whose boathouse it is but at one point there is a S.R.V. Nereus poster on a door which suggests that that is the club for which they row and of course Nereus is a club for students, but the exterior doesn’t look like theirs (see film blurb above). Another change is that instead of being a business tycoon like Christa’s father, Jenny’s ‘vader’ is a stage actor. The reason for that change escapes me.
One nice edit at the beginning of the film starts in black-and-white as a rowing eight enters a bridge on the Amstel and as it shoots the bridge the film changes to colour. Right there is the birth of the colour film industry in the Netherlands and it is a rowing shot.
At the end of the film, there is a race between two women’s’ eights, rowed on what looks like the Bosbaan. Here are a couple of poor-quality screenshots showing the start and the finish of the race.
Ideally, Jenny needs English subtitles to widen its appeal but if you do want to tick it off your ‘to-view-list’, do as I did, and watch it in a few bite size chunks.
If you prefer your old films in English and in black & white, you can watch 8 Girls (1934) here.