Directors: Oswald, Richard–Filmography (Different from the Others (1919), First Pro-Gay Film Ever Made (Gay Identity, Paragraph 175)

From Our Vaults:

Different from the Others (German: Anders als die Andern), a German film produced during the Weimar Republic, was first released in 1919 and stars Conrad Veidt and Reinhold Schünzel.

The story was co-written by Richard Oswald and Magnus Hirschfeld, who also had a small part in the film.

Partially funded the production through his Institute for Sexual Science, the film was intended as polemic against the then-current laws under Germany’s “Paragraph 175,” which made homosexuality a criminal offense.

It is believed to be the first pro-gay film ever made. The story was co-written by Richard Oswald and Magnus Hirschfeld, who also had a small part in the film and partially funded the production through his Institute for Sexual Science.

The film was intended as polemic against the then-current laws under Germany’s Paragraph 175, which made homosexuality a crime

The cinematography was by Max Fassbender, who two years previously had worked on Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray, one of the earliest cinematic treatments of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Director Richard Oswald later became a director of more mainstream films, as did his son Gerd. Veidt became a major film star the year after Anders was released, in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Anders als die Andern represents one of the first sympathetic portrayals of homosexuals in cinema.

The film’s basic plot was used again in the 1961 UK film, Victim, starring Dirk Bogarde.

Censorship laws enacted in reaction to films like Anders als die Andern eventually restricted viewing of this movie to doctors and medical researchers. Moreover, prints of the film were among the many “decadent” works, burned by the Nazis after they came to power in 1933.

Veidt portrays a successful violinist, Paul Körner, who falls in love with one of his male students. Meanwhile, a sleazy extortionist threatens to expose Körner as a homosexual.

Flashbacks show how Körner became aware of his orientation and tried first to change it, then to understand it. Körner and the extortionist end up in court, where the judge is sympathetic to the violinist, but when the scandal becomes public, Körner’s career is ruined and he is driven to suicide.

The film opens with Paul Körner (Conrad Veidt), a successful violinist reading the daily newspaper obituaries, which are filled with vaguely worded and seemingly inexplicable suicides. Körner, however, knows that Paragraph 175 is hidden behind them all, that it hangs over German homosexuals “like the Sword of Damocles.”

Kurt Sivers (Fritz Schulz), a fan and admirer of Körner, approaches him, hoping to become his student. Körner agrees, and they begin lessons together, during which they fall in love.

Both men experience the disapproval of their parents. Neither are out, but Sivers’s parents object to the large amount of attention he focuses on the violin and his unusual infatuation with Körner. The Körners do not understand why he has shown no interest in finding a wife and starting a family. Körner sends his parents to see his mentor, the Doctor (Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld).

The Doctor appears several times in the film, each time to deliver speeches more intended for the audience than to advance the plot.

In his first appearance, he tells Körner’s parents: “You must not condemn your son because he is a homosexual, he is not to blame for his orientation. It is not wrong, nor should it be a crime. Indeed, it is not even an illness, merely a variation, and one that is common to all of nature.

After Körner’s coming out, he and Sivers begin seeing each other more openly. While walking together, hand in hand, through the park, they pass a man, Franz Bollek (Reinhold Schünzel), who recognizes Körner. Later that day, when Körner is alone, Bollek confronts him and demands hush money or else he will expose Sivers.

Körner pays him, but keeps it as a secret from Sivers. Eventually, however, the blackmailer’s demands become too great and Körner refuses to pay (Bollek reads Körner’s reply to his demand in a gay bar).

Bollek decides to break into Körner’s house while he and Sivers are performing, but he is discovered by Sivers and Körner on their return and a fight breaks out. In the course of the fight, Bollek reveals to Sivers that he has been blackmailing him.

Sivers runs away and faces hardships trying to survive alone. Körner is left dejected and, over a photo of Sivers, remembers his past.

His first memory is of boarding school, when he and his boyfriend Max are discovered kissing by their teacher and he is expelled. Next, he remembers University and his solitary and lonely life there, and the growing impossibility of trying to play straight.

He remembers trying an ex-gay hypnotherapist, but finding him only to be a charlatan. Then he first met the Doctor, whose reaction was much different from those he had previously met. Among other things, he told him: “Same-sex love is no less pure or noble than heterosexual love. This orientation can be found in all levels of society, and among respected people. Those that say otherwise come only from ignorance and bigotry.”

Remembering further, he recalled first meeting Bollek at a gay dance hall, and Bollek leading him on before ultimately turning on him and using his homosexuality to blackmail him.

Back in the present, Körner takes Else Sivers (Anita Berber), Kurt Sivers’ sister, to the Doctor’s lecture on alternative sexuality. The Doctor speaks on topics such as homosexuality, lesbianism, gender identity, intersexuality, the perils of stereotypes, and the idea that sexuality is physically determined, rather than a mental condition. Enlightened by the presentation, Else renounces her wish for a relationship with Körner and instead pledges her friendship and support.

Körner reports Bollek for blackmail and has him arrested. In retaliation, Bollek exposes Körner. The Doctor gives testimony on Körner’s behalf, but both are found guilty of their respective crimes. Bollek is sentenced to three years for extortion. Sympathetic to Körner, the judge gives him the minimum sentence allowable, one week.

Allowed to go home before starting his term, Körner finds himself shunned by friends and strangers alike, and no longer employable. Even his family tells him there is only one honorable way out. He then takes a handful of pills, committing suicide.

Sivers rushes to his side as he lies dead. Körner’s parents blame Sivers for what has happened, but Else harshly rebukes them. Meanwhile, Sivers attempts to kill himself as well, but the Doctor prevents him and delivers his final speech:

You have to keep living; live to change the prejudices by which this man has been made one of the countless victims. … [Y]ou must restore the honor of this man and bring justice to him, and all those who came before him, and all those to come after him. Justice through knowledge!

The film closes with an open German law book, turned to Paragraph 175, as a hand holding a brush crosses it out.

The film premiered in May 1919 and was initially successful. Shortly after the premiere, conservative Catholic, Protestant, and anti-semitic groups started to protest and disturb the public screenings. This initiated extensive public debate on censorship. The constitution of the Weimar Republic initially assured freedom of speech and expression, but special qualifications were created for cinema in response to the Different from the Others production and screenings. Accordingly, films which were characterized as obscene or as dangerous to young people were to be censored.

Hirschfeld organized screenings of the film for members of Weimar National Assembly, Prussian State Council, Landtag of Prussia, and government officials in the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft. This did not yield any results, and in May 1920, specific censorship provisions for films were approved by legislators.

The censor office was created in Berlin and its first review was of Different from the Others. The commission consisted of three psychiatrists: Emil Kraepelin, Albert Moll, and Siegfried Placzek, all opponents of Hirschfeld and his advocacy of the legalization of homosexuality. The panel recommended a ban on the public screening of the film, which was put in place in October 1920. The judgement was that the film was biased towards Paragraph 175 and thus presents a one-sided view, confuses young audience about homosexuality, and can be used for the recruitment of underage viewers to become homosexuals.

The film was shown only in private and to medical professionals. At the end, the film was screened publicly only at the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, where it was shown for education or special events.

The film, which co-starred and was co-written by sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, refers to Hirschfeld’s theory of “sexual intermediacy.” The theory places homosexuality within a broad spectrum that comprise heterosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism, and transvestism (a word invented by Hirschfeld).

The film’s protagonist first meets his blackmailer at a costume party, and the blackmailer also frequents a drag club; these scenes are the earliest film footage of gay men and lesbians dancing.

The film was initially shipped in 40 copies in Germany and the Netherlands by Oswald, and it was shown for nearly a year before the authorities stepped in and banned public screenings, allowing it to be shown only to doctors and lawyers. The Nazis destroyed the majority of the prints and only one copy of the film is known to exist.

UCLA Film and Television Archive purchased an original fine-grain master positive of film’s footage, which Hirschfeld inserted in his own film “Laws of Love” from the Russian State Film and Photo Archive.

The early gay anthem “Das lila Lied” from 1920 refers to the film’s title at the start of its chorus (“Wir sind nun einmal anders als die Andern”).

In 2012, the film was screened as part of the official program at Outfest in 2012. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Teddy Awards, it was selected to be shown at the 66th Berlin Film Festival in February 2016. On October 21, 2016, Different from the Others was screened at NewFest, New York’s LGBT Film Festival. The film was also screened in a special event in Jerusalem Cinematheque.

Conrad Veidt as Paul Körner
Leo Connard as Körner’s Father
Ilse von Tasso-Lind as Körner’s Sister
Alexandra Willegh as Körner’s Mother
Ernst Pittschau as Sister’s Husband
Fritz Schulz as Kurt Sivers
Wilhelm Diegelmann as Sivers’ Father
Clementine Plessner as Sivers’ Mother
Anita Berber as Else
Reinhold Schünzel as Franz Bollek
Helga Molander as Mrs. Hellborn
Magnus Hirschfeld as Arzt (German for Doctor)
Karl Giese as Young Paul Körner


Produced, directed by Richard Oswald
Written by Oswald and Magnus Hirschfeld

Cinematography Max Fassbender
Distributed by Richard Oswald-Film Berlin

Release date: June 30, 1919

Running time: 50 minutes (fragment)
Weimar Republic
Silent film

Filmography of Richard Oswald (1914-1949)

The Iron Cross (1914)

Ivan Koschula (1914)

The Silent Mill (1914)

Laugh Bajazzo (1915)

The Vice (1915)

Tales of Hoffmann (1916)

A Night of Horror (1916)

The Uncanny House (1916)

The Sea Battle (1917)

The Lord of Hohenstein (1917)

Let There Be Light (1917)

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1917)

The Story of Dida Ibsen (1918)

Jettchen Gebert’s Story (1918)

Diary of a Lost Woman (1918)

Henriette Jacoby (1918)

The House of Three Girls (1918)

Die Arche (1919)

Different from the Others (1919)

Prostitution (1919)

Peer Gynt (1919)

Around the World in Eighty Days (1919)

Unheimliche Geschichten (1919)

Figures of the Night (1920)

Kurfürstendamm (1920)

The Merry-Go-Round (1920)

Manolescu’s Memoirs (1920)

Lady Hamilton (1921)

The Golden Plague (1921)

The House in Dragon Street (1921)

The Love Affairs of Hector Dalmore (1921)

Lucrezia Borgia (1922)

Carlos and Elisabeth (1924)

Semi-Silk (1925)

The Wife of Forty Years (1925)

Rags and Silk (1925)

Should We Be Silent? (1926)

When I Came Back (1926)

We Belong to the Imperial-Royal Infantry Regiment (1926)

The White Horse Inn (1926)

Assassination (1927)

Radio Magic (1927)

Agitated Women (1927)

The Transformation of Dr. Bessel (1927)

Lützow’s Wild Hunt (1927)

A Crazy Night (1927)

The Green Alley (1928)

Villa Falconieri (1928)

Spring Awakening (1929)

The Mistress and her Servant (1929)

Marriage in Trouble (1929)

Cagliostro (1929)

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1929)

Dreyfus (1930)

Vienna, City of Song (1930)

Alraune (1930)

The Tender Relatives (1930)

1914 (1931)

Schubert’s Dream of Spring (1931)

Poor as a Church Mouse (1931)

Victoria and Her Hussar (1931)

The Captain from Köpenick (1931)

Countess Mariza (1932)

Unheimliche Geschichten (1932)

The Flower of Hawaii (1933)

A Song Goes Round the World (1933)

Adventures on the Lido (1933)

My Song Goes Round the World (1934)

When You’re Young, the World Belongs to You (1934)

Bleeke Bet (1934)

Storm over Asia (1938)

Isle of Missing Men (1942)

The Lovable Cheat (1949)