Follow TV Tropes


Film / I Don't Want to Be a Man

Go To
A Comedy in Three Acts by Ernst Lubitsch

"Being a man - is really very exhausting!"
Ossi Oswalda.

A 1918 German Sweet Polly Oliver Romantic Comedy Silent Film, directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

I Don't Want to Be a Man (Original Title: Ich möchte kein Mann sein) is the story of Ossi Oswalda (Ossi Oswalda,) an uncontrollable teenage Lad-ette who drives her uncle, Counselor Brockmüller (Ferry Sikla,) and Governess (Margarete Kupfer) mad with her excessive drinking, smoking, gambling, flirting and generally overemotional behavior. When her uncle leaves the country to oversee his newly founded institute, the handsome young Dr. Kersten is appointed as her new guardian in the hopes that he will teach her to be more ladylike. Instead, Ossi takes the opportunity to sneak out of the house and - jealous of the freedom men posses - disguise herself in tailor-made male formal wear to experience the night life from the other side. Unfortunately, Dr. Kersten is also going out clubbing, and he just happens to hit the same club as Ossi...


This was the eighth out of twelve collaborations between Ernst Lubitsch and Ossi Oswalda. It is notable for featuring a ton of Homoerotic Subtext at a time where such relationships were illegal. To some extent, it could be said to have anticipated next year's Different from the Others. Because of its content, it was initially given an "Adults Only" rating, but it has since been re-evaluated as "Appropriate for All Ages" in Germany.

There exists two different DVD editions of this film: An American 2007 release by By Kino International, and a British 2010 release by Eureka Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema line. The former has English intertitles, while the latter has German intertitles with English subtitles.


This movie contains examples of:

  • Age-Gap Romance: By the end of the film, a relationship has formed between Ossi and Dr. Kersten, who is about ten years older than her. Though it's made pretty clear that Ossi will be the one wearing the pants in the relationship.
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Ossi Oswalda as a Sharp-Dressed Man is considered quite attractive both in and out of universe.
  • Bifauxnen: Ossi, especially by the end of the film when she's revealed her true gender (and haircut) but still wears the suit. The poster (shown above) also played this up by making her look as curvy as possible.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Ossi is this towards her substitute parents. (The real Ossi Oswald was actually in her late teens/early twenties at the time, however. So either she's playing "herself" at a younger age, or she's meant to be very immature for her age.)
  • But Not Too Gay: While the film does have its fair share of Homoerotic Subtext, the only romance which goes beyond lighthearted flirting is - at the end of the day - between a man and a woman.
  • Clark Kenting: Ossi meets both her Governess and Dr. Kersten in drag without either of them realizing who she is. Possibly Justified by the former's poor eye-sight and the latter having only met her once very briefly.
  • Coming of Age Story: Besides the Sweet Polly Oliver element, this is a story about a young person taking the first step into the world of adulthood and starting their mental journey from misbehaving child to confident grown-up.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Ossi and Dr. Kersten just happen to visit the same club at the same time the day after they first meet.
  • Double Standard: The movie explores these by showing the different expectations society has of Ossi as a man. At one point, she is chastised for not giving up her seat for a woman, and later, when somebody steps on her feet, she is told to "take it like a man."
  • Dude Magnet: Ossi is quite popular with the boys. A dozen guys show up a her window to serenade her (and are promptly chased away by her overprotective uncle,) and another half dozen tailors are later shown to be very willing to take her measurements. As it turns out, putting on an evening suit only has the effect of turning her into a Chick Magnet instead, giving her an Unwanted Harem who drag her out to the dance floor for a wild dance. And that's not getting into her possibly platonic fellow card players, the woman she flirts with at the club, or her Relationship Upgrade with Dr. Kersten.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The timespan of the first act is not entirely clear, but the latter two acts mostly take place during a single day, with an ending set the morning after.
  • Gender-Blender Name: The Coachman is pretty surprised to learn that one of his seemingly male passengers is named "Ossi." Ironically, he actually thinks this applies to Dr. Kersten, as the pair have mixed up their cloaks.
  • Hypocrite: Ossi's uncle and governess chide her for enjoying cigaretts and alcohol and confiscate both... only to indulge in them even more than Ossi did.
  • Lessons in Sophistication: Subverted. Dr. Kersten and the Governess try to put Ossi through these, but she isn't having it. (Ironically, her ultimate rebellion actually involves acting like a proper member of high society, just not in the way they intended.)
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • "I'll bring you into line yet! You'll be this small!" The first time it's spoken, it's said by Dr. Kersten trying to discipline the unruly Ossi. The second time, the roles have been reversed.
    • Ossi says "These menfolk are so rough!" after unsuccessfully trying to get through a pushy crown trying to gain acces to the coat closet. Later, after being dragged out to the dance floor by a dozen girls, she instead says "These womenfolk are so inconsiderate!"
  • Nephewism: Ossi lives with her uncle and a governess. What happened to her parents is never really explained.
  • Never Trust a Title: Well, the title isn't inaccurate as much as slightly misleading. Ossi actually does wish that she was born male (as she's apparently not allowed to be herself in her current gender.) It's only when she tries out life as a man and realises that it too is far from perfect that she decides that she prefers being a woman, leading to a Title Drop. (Also a mild case of a Spoiler Title.)
  • Of Course I Smoke: At the club, Ossi is presented with a cigar, and clearly doesn't like the taste or even quite know how to smoke it. Subverted in that she is an avid smoker. It's specifically cigars she's unfamiliar with.
  • Operation: Jealousy: Ossi tries to steal away Dr. Kertsen's date to make him jealous as a punishment for the way he treated her earlier. At least that seems to be her main motivation...
  • Queer People Are Funny: More or less Invoked by casting popular comedian Ossi Oswalda as the crossdressing lead. The humor comes more from the Fish out of Water element and Comical Overreacting than the crossdressing itself, though.
  • Slapstick Knows no Gender: Ossi gets pushed and dragged around quite a bit by the other dancers. She's even knocked down to the floor at one point
  • Smug Snake: Dr. Kersten, at least at first.
  • Sweet on Polly Oliver: Dr. Kersten and Ossi start kissing at the club after downing several glasses of alcohol and the former ends up end up cradling the latter on their way to their respective homes. This is before he learns that she's really a woman. Even after sobering up he's not really bothered by it, and simply tells the "young man" to keep it a secret. He's actually more upset when he finds out the truth, as he's more worried what will happen to him once her Governess finds out...
  • Took a Level in Kindness: By the end of the film, both Ossi and Dr. Kersten have done this.
  • When I Was Your Age...: Said word for word by Ossi's Governess. As this is the only part of the line that is transcribed for the audience, people were apparently familiar enough with this phrase even back then to know the kind of talks that would usually follow.
  • "Which Restroom?" Dilemma: Still dressed as a man, Ossi drunkenly stumbles towards the ladies' room before a gent leads her in the direction of the mens' room. Eventually, she decides to not visit the toilet at all.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Ossi herself. Sure, she's a bit of a brat to her surrogate parents, but while going out she's polite, friendly, and never deliberately tries to offend anyone. When Dr. Kersten gets mad at her for flirting with his date, she apologizes and tells him to just forget about it.