100 years ago in Holland: cross-dressing at the seaside, and winter scenes (NL 1914)

This week I’m profiling two films from the Netherlands: Toffe jongens onder de mobilisatie, and Hiver en Hollande, both 1914.


Toffe jongens onder de mobilisatie was produced by Filmfabriek Hollandia, the most significant Dutch film production company of the 1910s.  Hollandia was founded in Haarlem in 1914 as a successor to a production company established two years prior, and went on to produce a large number of documentary and fiction films until declaring bankruptcy in 1923.  Although it doesn’t seem to have had a great deal of export success, Hollandia films were a healthy domestic draw during the teens, especially the films of its main star, Annie Bos.


Bos at centre.

An English rendering of the film title might be ‘Nice young men under conscription’. The film entry on EYE Film Instituut’s website indicates that the part of Toffe jongens that is available is most likely part 3; the previous parts establish that several men – not military material! – have been called up for service, with hijinks ensuing.  In this chapter, Adèle (Annie Bos) and her schoolmates go to the beach at Zandvoort, west of Haarlem and Amsterdam.  Two of the titular ‘nice young men’ are there too: hanging out, mugging shamelessly, and generally causing a ruckus.  All of which catches the eye of the schoolgirls, but does not impress their schoolmistress:


The picture of innocence.

Adèle and her friend go swimming with the soldiers, but as they go to change back afterwards, she has a brainwave:


The girls put on the soldiers’ uniforms.


They march off to the military base, while the soldiers, having dressed in the girls’ uniforms, head off to the boarding-school.  Of course, before too long their ruse is revealed … but not before each duo gets up to mischief.

As something I watched mainly for the ‘100 years ago’ factor, this film was a pleasant surprise!  I saw Annie Bos in De Bertha (1913) a couple of years ago and didn’t think that much of her … I couldn’t see a level of charisma to justify her reputation as the ‘Dutch Asta Nielsen’. (She reportedly wasn’t too keen on that label, comparing herself rather to Francesca Bertini … to me her acting style resembles neither). Perhaps I would appreciate Bos in De Bertha more on a re-watch; … anyway, here she is charming and lively, and I can well understand her popularity.


I always enjoy seeing films featuring cross-dressing.  An in-depth discussion might wait for the future, but cross-dressing was a relatively frequent plot device in films of the teens, usually played for laughs.  Here the soldiers, with their wildly uneven bosoms, are portrayed as innately comical (‘a man dressing as a woman, what a hilarious thought!’), whereas the woman’s disguises lead them rather to amusing situations, and they are still allowed to be appealing.  Then again, the soldiers are depicted as the local yokels, and the actors are playing that to the hilt. …

The film also features cool intertitles written in rhyming verse.

Toffee jongens intertitle

Winter in Les Pays-Bas

Also preserved by EYE, here’s a scenic film called L’hiver en Holland (Winter in Holland); viewable here on EYE’s website or here on YouTube.  Many such films were made in the silent era; film companies sent their cameramen all over the world to record foreign climes, or to record places and events for the local populace.  It was a window to the world in those days of limited mobility.  I admit that I don’t watch a lot of these kind of scenic films (if not narrative, I tend toward the experimental), but they are often very beautiful and poignant. They tend to give me a Camera Lucida-type moment: these people I am watching are all dead, but they live before my eyes as celluloid ghosts.


It’s winter right now where I live, and it is freezing, so it seemed like an appropriate time to rewatch Hiver en Hollande.  I remember seeing it at EYE (maybe when it was still the Nederlands Filmmuseum) when I lived in the Netherlands.  My time in the Netherlands did not, however, include boat-racing on ice (sadly!):


Likewise, these kids look like they are having a great time:


Please forgive the poor quality; the video wasn’t high-resolution.

According to EYE, this film was probably shot by Kinematograaf Pathé Frères, a local subsidiary of Pathé Frères, that French giant of film in the 1900s and 1910s.

For me one of the most memorable moments came from this kid:



The winter activities are bookended with a cutesy staged scene of (non-smoking) children who are wearing Volendam attire.


A really lovely look at winter activities in the Netherlands from a century ago.

— — —

Toffe jongens onder de mobilisatie. Dir. Jan van Dommelen. Netherlands: Filmfabriek Hollandia, 1914.

L’hiver en Hollande. Dir. unknown. Netherlands/France: ?Kinematograaf Pathé Frères, 1914.

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1 Response to 100 years ago in Holland: cross-dressing at the seaside, and winter scenes (NL 1914)

  1. Pingback: Annie Bos | Klaus Kreimeier HOME

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