The film is based on the novel Das Stille Weh (The Quiet Pain) by Hedwig Courths-Mahler, published in 1919. It is categorized as a “formula-fiction-romantic” genre, which was popular at the time. Her novels had a large female audience and they are being reprinted to this date, making her the most popular German female writer by copies sold.
This novel was adapted to screen by Helene Lindau-Schulz.
After his father’s death, it turns out that the young Count Ferry Raventos of Sadina, has inherited only debts. He asks Mr. Stavenport, the American banker who holds the loans to his property, to lend him some more money. Stavenport declines because he has a scheme – he wants his daughter Ruth to marry the Count, thereby making her a Countess and leaving him the owner of the property de facto. Ferry is surprised at the offer and questions Stavenport’s ability to persuade his daughter to this arrangement, but Stavenport assures him that Ruth is a dutiful daughter and will comply.
We learn that Sonja Estevan, whose parents were acquaintances of the old Count, was planning to marry Ferry but now has changed her mind because he is no longer a man of means.
In a harsh conversation between father and daughter, Ruth at first refuses to be part of the scheme and accuses her father of making her an accomplice to fraud, which she knows he carried out together with a real-estate inspector. She detests her father but as his daughter, feels obligated to go along with his plan. Ruth assures her father that he can rely on her cooperation.
Meanwhile, Axentowicz, a friend of Ferry, offers financial help but the Count informs him of his impending marriage and the solution to his problem. He goes on to suggest Sonja to his friend if he promises to make her happy.
Ruth confides in her friend Dagmar, telling her that she pities the Count for having to marry without love. She declares that she only agreed to her father’s scheme because she plans to correct the injustice done to Ferry by giving him back all his possessions after the wedding and then silently disappearing from his life.
Ruth then sends an official invitation to Ferry to come to her father’s residence. Stavenport and Ferry meet in private and Stavenport declares that he is now ready to transfer the necessary funds. He urges Ferry to conclude the details of the deal because as is said in America: “business is business”. When Ruth joins them, Ferry handles the situation gallantly – he asserts that strange conditions have brought Ruth and himself together and he hopes that in time she will learn to love him. Ruth assures him that she accepted his offer willingly. At that, Ferry already finds himself liking his future wife. Learning that she paints, Ferry asks to see some of her work but she refuses and dismisses them as that of an amateur.
Ruth reciprocates with an official tour of Ferry’s mansion. He fears it will seem provincial to her. When they get to the quarters that once belonged to his mother, he declares that Ruth can make any changes as she sees fit, but Ruth says that she likes them as they are. On passing, she notices a specific painting at which she declares that it was painted by “Hans Volkmar” and that it was the second work by this artist that the gallery has sold. Ferry is impressed by his fiancée’s understanding of art.
Following the wedding, days turn into weeks and Ferry believes that Ruth does not love him. Ruth, on the other hand, is developing warm feelings for her husband which she hides, because she is convinced that he only married her to get out of his financial difficulty. She tells him that she misses painting and asks to build a studio, which he agrees to.
The couple becomes estranged because each of them thinks they are a burden on the other. When Ferry has to travel on business, Sonja asks to be invited to the mansion. While touring the place it seems she came for one purpose – to gloat and offend. She compliments Ruth’s taste and with the same breath poignantly states that it’s good to be rich, that she pities Ferry for having to marry for money and that she and Ferry were once lovers and separated only due to lack of money. Then, she quickly gives a false apology for having offended Ruth and departs.
One day Ruth receives a telegram informing her of her father’s illness. She rushes home but arrives too late. She feels that finally now, the lie can end and her husband can be released from this loveless marriage. When Ferry returns home from his travels, he finds a telegram from Ruth telling him that she will remain at her father’s house for the duration of the mourning.
One day, a letter from an art gallery arrives at the Raventos mansion, which reads: “It was a great art exhibition. Mrs. Countess Ruth Raventos Sadina (pseudonym Hans Volkmar), we have the honor to tell you that we have sold the last painting under the conditions known to you. Respectfully, the Director.” Ferry is astonished – he realizes that his wife was anything but a mediocre painter and that she was actually a valued artist working under a pseudonym.
When Ferry sees Ruth again, he apologizes for not recognizing her talent. She then tells him the real reason why she became his wife. Although it is difficult for her to speak ill of her dead father, she confesses to her father’s scheme. Because of her part in it, she saw it as her mission to help him get his fortune back, and now that she did, he can be free of her. It is agonizing for Ruth to say that because she loves Ferry, but she is convinced that now he will go back to Sonja.
By now the couple has practically separated – Ruth remains in her late father’s house in Switzerland and Ferry resides at the mansion. Correspondence between the two has also stopped and Ferry is sure that Ruth has forgotten all about him.
But surprise – apparently Ruth is pregnant. Her friend Dagmar urges her to let Ferry know the good news but she declines, claiming she does not want to put new shackles on him and that he’s probably happy with Sonja.
Ruth has the baby and one year passes by. Ruth misses her husband and wishes at least to have the portrait of him which she has painted when they first got together. She sends the key to her studio at the mansion to Ferry’s butler, asking him to send her the painting without telling Ferry. As it turns, the butler’s eyesight is poor and he asks Ferry to read the letter to him. Ferry then understands that contrary to his belief, Ruth has indeed feelings for him.
To Ruth’s surprise, the painting arrives with an unexpected messenger – Ferry, who is now sure of their feelings for each other and happily vows to hold on to her.
And now the biggest surprise of all – Ruth introduces the junior Count Raventos to the senior Count Raventos….
Heinz Sarnow – Count Ferry Raventos of Sadina
Eduard von Winterstein – Mr. Stavenport, an American banker
Ally Kolberg (Kay) – Ruth, his daughter
Anni Kuhnke – Dagmar, her friend
Maria von Pahlen – Mrs. Estevan
Hilde Engel – Sonja, her daughter
Richard Lybessai – Rochus von Axentowicz
Luise Werkmeister – Brigitte, Ruth’s housekeeper