Can a homophobic film from 1957 look gay friendly in 2020? Sorta. In Germany’s The Third Sex a mother “rescues” her sensitive son from his gay best friend by setting him up with her maid. The parents treat homosexuals like monsters but the gay characters, with one exception, are sympathetic. This was intentional. The director, despite a bigoted past, insisted he felt “compassion for these sexual cripples.” (Gee, thanks!) The German rating agency felt they were too sympathetic so they rewrote key scenes. In the end there were three releases of the film. The original The Third Sex, the censored Different from You and Me and the English dubbed Bewildered Youth. Each offers a fun-house mirror look at 50’s gay culture.
Curious? Then read my spoiler filled recap.
Trigger warning. The film contains grooming, homophobia and implied sexual assault.
Act One: Is He or Isn’t He?
Scene One: Courtroom
JUDGE: You’ve been accused of procurement. How do you plead?
MOM: Guilty your honor. But let me explain.
(Flash back to…)
Scene Two: Home
MAID: Dinner’s ready.
DAD: Your son is late again. He must be with his sissy friend.
MOM: Our son. Don’t be so hard on him.
DAD: Klaus is 18! He should be dating girls!
Scene Three: Bruno’s Party
KLAUS (a teen painter): Gee Manfred I sure like your poem about rainbows.
MANFRED (a teen poet): Gee Klaus I love you your abstract paintings. Thanks for protecting me from bullies at school. I want you to meet my friend Bruno.
(Bruno’s party is full of young men. They play synthesizers, dance together and watch a sexy wrestling match.)
BRUNO (a creepy old lecher): Greco-Roman. I’d like to display your paintings in my gallery.
KLAUS: Golly mister, you would do that for me?
BRUNO: My dear sweet child, that’s what I do! That’s what I live for. To help unfortunate artists such as yourself. Poor souls, with no one else to turn to.
Act Two: Mother Knows Best
Scene Four: Psychiatrist Office
DAD: Your son is a fairy!
MOM: Our son! And we don’t know that.
PSYCHIATRIST: Some people are born homosexual. They should be pitied and left alone.
CENSORS: Cut that line. It’s too sympathetic.
PSYCHIATRIST: Find him a nice girl.
Scene Five: Home
MOM: Try on this bracelet. That’s lovely. You like Klaus, don’t you?
MAID: Oh yes. He never paws at me like the other boys.
MOM: Father and I are going on a trip this weekend. Could you bang him look after him?
MAID: Why sure.
Scene Six: That Night
MANFRED: Knock knock. Can Klaus help me with my homework?
MAID: Get out. (Slams the door in his face.)
KLAUS: That was mean.
MAID: Paint me like one of your abstract girls. I’ll just change.
(She takes off her clothes. He pins her to the ground. They have rough sex.)
Act Three: Order In the Court
Scene Seven: Interrogation Room
COP: Did Bruno ever kiss you?
FLIRTY GAY TEEN: Only on the forehead.
COP: Do you want to pull my leg?
FLIRTY GAY TEEN: Not your leg, no.
(How did they got away with this in 1957? You won’t find a line like that in Tea and Sympathy.)
Scene Eight: Bruno’s Home
DAD: Stay away from my son or I’ll sue.
BRUNO: Your son came to me because he couldn’t talk to you. Get out. (Dad leaves.)
MANFRED: Klaus hates me. His mother set him up with some icky girl.
BRUNO: That’s procurement. I’ll tell the police. Then fly to Rome.
MANFRED: I’ll be all alone. I’ve lost Klaus and now you.
CENSORS: Cut that line. Manfred’s too sympathetic. And don’t let Bruno escape.
COP: Bruno you’re under arrest.
Scene Nine: Courtroom
MOM: But Klaus and the Maid are in love!
JUDGE: You meant well but the girl’s underage. If you were her mother you wouldn’t want her pimped out. The sentence is six months in prison.
CENSORS: That’s too harsh. Even if it’s accurate.
JUDGE: The sentence is six months’ probation.
KLAUS: I’m sorry mother.
MOM: It’s all right. At least you’re straight now.
KLAUS: We never actually confirmed I wasn’t straight.
MOM: Hush. Just let me have this.
Paved with Good Intentions
Nobody dies! For an old gay movie that’s awfully progressive!
Let’s set some landmarks. 1919’s Different from the Others depicted a tragic gay couple and a doctor who offers them compassion. German officials banned it. 1961’s Victim depicts a closeted barrister who unmasks a blackmailer and speaks against anti-gay laws. It’s been called the first English language film to utter the word homosexual. 1965’s Winter Kept Us Warm depicts a college student in love with his best friend. He’s broken hearted when his pal finds a girlfriend. The University of Toronto wouldn’t let them film unless the word homosexual was struck from the text. The subtext is still clear. And finally, 1961’s Boys Beware was an educational video for American high schools warning boys about male sexual predators. 1957’s The Third Sex contains elements of all four films. Where does it sit on the tolerance scale?
Disgusting! When the curtain goes down, one hurries in order to wash one’s hands. Deep at heart, one wants to take a bath. ~ Günter Dahl, Filmpress
Klaus’s mother is trying her best. She’s done research and taken a psychologist’s advice. Her legal mistake was giving her maid the bracelet. With no payment she could not have been charged with procurement. Six months in prison is too harsh for matchmaking.
Papa’s written as a stuffed shirt. He goes to a cabaret to see what homosexuals are like and is shocked by a group of drag queens. What’s interesting is the drag queens are not the joke. Papa’s prudishness is.
Homosexuality, as presented here, has no more impact than a standard soap opera. ~ New York Times
What of Klaus? He may not return Manfred’s feelings, not consciously at least, but he’s a loyal friend. He’ll protect him from bullies and his father’s scorn. He’s comfortable enough with his masculinity to constantly hold Manfred’s hand and hug him around the shoulder. He lets Manfred hug him around the waist on their motorcycle rides. He’s not frightened or upset with anything he sees at Bruno’s party. When he rejects Manfred, it’s not for his sexuality. It’s because Manfred calls his girlfriend a “cow.” Bad move Manfred.
The film does not condemn or pity homosexuality~ Films and Filming
I found Manfred the most sympathetic character in the film. He’s got a rough road ahead of him. When he grows jealous the soundtrack plays scary music. But he’s no more possessive than any lovesick teen. His mother gets a brief scene where she says she’s accepted her son as he is. The censors had Klaus’s uncle rebuke her for it but he initially sighed “That’s fate.”
Does Manfred’s positive representation balance out Bruno’s predator? Will you look up the film after reading this article? There’s a collection of (negative) reviews of the film here. For more reviews of LGBT+ media click here.
And here’s a montage of Klaus and Manfred being adorable together.