I Don’t Want to Be a Man (1918)

Ossi (Ossi Oswalda) is a girl living under strict, hypocritical judgement from her guardians. She smokes, and they say that the don’t understand how a woman can smoke… but then proceed to smoke and enjoy it, themselves. She drinks, and they chastise her for being indecent… only to enjoy alcohol themselves, just as much as the cigarettes.

Tired of living under the strict rules and regulations that are imposed on “proper” young ladies, Ossi decides to see how the other half lives, dressing as a man so she can have her fun without being judged or reprimanded for it. But Ossi quickly finds that manhood isn’t all of the fun she hoped it would be, and not nearly as easy.

(Image via Film Affinity)
(Image via Film Affinity)

Ernst Lubitsch directs the silent 1918 comedy Ich möchte kein Mann sein. In English, the film is known as I Don’t Want to Be a Man. Co-starring alongside Ossi Oswalda are Curt Goetz, Ferry Sikla and Margarete Kupfer.

Netflix Instant is not known for having a great selection of silents, but it does have a few, and this is one that’s available there. After passing by it about a million times while browsing for something to watch, I decided to finally give it a chance when I noticed that it was directed by Lubitsch. While I consider myself a fan of Lubitsch, I haven’t seen too many of his early German films, so I snatched up the opportunity to watch this one.

Ich möchte kein Mann sein is an interesting watch, with its subject matter of cross-dressing. It is a comedy of mistaken identity, a form that was later perfected in films like Some Like It Hot.

Like the later comedy, this film briefly touches on the subject matter of homosexuality, with Ossi mackin’ on her guardian while in drag (and while drunk), but the film makes no real commentary here; the whole scenario seems to be simply used for comedic effect. They later kiss again after Ossi is revealed to be a woman, so it’s unclear (to me, at least) what writers Lubitsch and Hanns Kräly were going for with the guardian character. It seems likely that they were just using him for laughs.

Though the film runs at only 45 minutes, the comedy will get old to some viewers fairly quickly because all of the laughs stem from the single scenario of Ossi’s experience as man-for-a-day. It benefits from its quick pace and relatively short running time.

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Ossi Oswalda gives a solid central performance for the film. According to IMDb, she was a star known as “the German Mary Pickford.” She’s a lot of fun to watch and carries the film quite well, making it easy to see why Lubitsch decided to work with her so many times.

There are better silent comedies and better gender-swapping films to be watched, but Ich möchte kein Mann sein is still a worthwhile watch, particularly for fans of Lubitsch. Though not quite as funny as one might expect it to be, it is an amusing and quite puzzling film. The score: 3/5

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