The Morals of Ruth Halbfass
and Overnight Stay in Tyrol
Volker Schlöndorff based his next film, The Morals of Ruth Halbfass (Die Moral der Ruth Halbfass, 1971), on a rather spectacular murder case that involved a rich Düsseldorff industrialist's wife, Minouche Schubert. The case was the stuff of tabloid newspaper exposés, and to some extent The Morals of Ruth Halbfass was a calculated attempt by Schlöndorff to win over a popular audience. The movie's central situation smacks of cliché: a wealthy, superficially glamorous couple, united in a loveless marriage, tolerate one another's joyless extramarital affairs until attempted murder complicates things. On close inspection, however, there is a lot more complexity to The Morals of Ruth Halbfass than immediately meets the eye. Schlöndorff uses the movie's familiar narrative framework as a context in which he makes a number of serious observations about contemporary German life and culture. He also undercuts usual genre expectations by using unsympathetic characters whose comportment always keeps the audience conscious of their place in a larger social system. Let us examine Ruth Halbfass, and, as a kind of footnote to it, Overnight Stay in Tyrol (Übernachtung in Tirol, 1973). This television film from two years later is perhaps the least significant of Schlöndorff's works but one that shares with Halbfass a number of similar aesthetic strategies.
The spirit of Claude Chabrol hangs over both The Morals of Ruth Halbfass and Overnight Stay in Tyrol. The French director, with his love of contrived plots, decadent bourgeois settings, caricatured acting, morally ambiguous themes, and a constantly mobile, probing camera style, had always fascinated the new German filmmakers. He represents a major connection between the French