Germany. When American audiences were permitted to see German filmmaker Dupont's silent masterpiece Varieté, it was the story of a carnival concessionaire Emil Jannings, his alluring wife Lya De Putti, and the handsome acrobat, Warwick Ward, who comes between them. Feeling doubly impotent because he himself had been a famous aerialist before suffering a crippling accident, Jannings fantasizes about killing his rival, and finally does so. After serving a long prison term, Jannings is released by a compassionate warden, who feels as though the poor cuckold has suffered enough. This, again, is what Americans saw. In the original European version of Varieté, which ran nearly twice as long as the US print, Jannings deserts his wife Maly Delschaft when Lya enters the scene. Moreover, he never marries Lya, meaning that his only hold over her when Ward steals her away is an emotional one. Dupont had fashioned an ironic tale of a man suffering betrayal after having himself betrayed. The American censors wouldn't swallow that, nor would they pass the charming domestic scene wherein Jannings helps Lya disrobe, unless the prologue involving Delschaft was chopped out and De Putti was transformed from mistress to wife. Though this sort of bowdlerization might seem like an artistic outrage, the American version of Varieté is in fact superior to the original, especially in terms of pace; what seemed interminable in the German version zips along at an entertaining clip in the revised print.
This film features many great variety acts, including Enrico Rastelli juggling six plates, followed by a ball balance on a mouth stick and Rastelli's famous ball balance on his nose. Also, a Chinese group spins plates on sticks, a seal does a ball balance on its nose, two eccentric unicyclers appear, and a man does three plate juggling and prepares to juggle three bottles.