The second great Berlin collaboration of Pabst and the incomparable Louise Brooks: She plays Thymian, the innocent daughter of a philandering pharmacist who swoons at sexual insinuation, and is raped by her fathers apprentice. She has a child, and is cast out of the house while the father marries his pretty housekeeper. The creepy associate takes the mortgages of the business and runs the show.
In the reformatory, she lives a grim, regimented existence ruled by a pair of sadists: a repressed woman who gets orgasmic beating time on a cymbal to direct meals and evening exercise; and a shaven-headed thug who must have inspired Lurch of The Adams Family. The only human warmth comes from surreptitious lesbian relationships among the wards.
When the thug manhandles her friend for sneaking in lipstick, Thymian and she escape and make their way to a tony whorehouse that the girl knows. Thymian is showered with clothing and caresses, but remains innocent…until she swoons again, and joins the business. Does anyone do swoons as well as Louise?
Her father dies, and she is the heir. During the legal formalities, she takes the opportunity to snub her rapist and tormentor who responds with, “Filthy slut! ” She gives away all she receives to the father’s widow who would otherwise be thrown onto the street by the rapist. Her husband, the pennnyless and dissolute Count Orloff, a childhood friend, commits suicide when he finds that she gave away the money so that her step-sister won’t end up as she did. Orloff’s uncle wants to make amends for his harsh line with his nephew, and he takes her in.
She joins the do-gooding crusade to save wayward girls run by the uncle’s family relations, and ends up at her old scene of torment. The sadists adopt a mask of syrupy virtue that fools the high-class reformers, but Thymian sets them all straight about what really goes on there. Her uncle concludes with the golden rule of social reform.
Brooks is wonderful throughout, and the film has many harrowing scenes of hypocrisy, sadism, and brutal social snobbery that make the conclusion profound rather than sentimental.