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Little Man, What Now?

Hans Pinneberg is a young German clerk, who, in the troubled economic times, wants only to accept life peacefully. He and his sweetheart, Emma Merceau, whom he affectionately calls “Lammchen,” marry after they confirm that she is pregnant. Hans brings Lammchen to his town but keeps their marriage secret because his boss, autocratic corn merchant Emil Kleinholz, employs only unmarried clerks, as he is looking for a husband for his immature daughter Marie. After Marie chooses Hans, the whole Kleinholz family, out for a Sunday outing, see Hans and Lammchen kissing in the park, and Hans quits when Kleinholz insults Lammchen. After three weeks of unemployment pass, Lammchen writes to Hans’s stepmother Mia in Berlin, who answers promising Hans a job in a clothing store. In Berlin, they find Mia living with Holger Jachman, an underworld bon vivant , who develops an interest in Lammchen. Through Jachman’s influence, Hans gets work as a salesman, but he spends most of his first salary on an expensive dressing table, which Lammchen has admired, rather than paying Mia for rent. However, during a party, Jachman, intoxicated, leaves 200 marks for the rent before passing out. When the store institutes a policy of paying salesmen on a percentage basis, Herr Heilbutt, the head salesman and a nudist whom Hans has come to like, resigns in protest. After Hans’s colleague Kessler snidely informs him that Mia uses the apartment to introduce “lonely men to lovely women,” Hans breaks up a breakfast party and takes Lammchen away from the apartment. They are offered a room by kindly furniture hauler Herr Puttbreese, but Hans loses his job after insulting screen actor Franz Schlüter, a customer who has used two hours of Hans’s time without buying anything. After Jachman invites Hans and Lammchen to an expensive cafe and gets nowhere flirting with Lammchen, the police finally catch up with him and arrest him, leaving Hans and Lammchen with the bill, but an envelope from Jachman then arrives containing more than enough money to cover it. When Lammchen goes into labor, Herr Puttbreese takes her to the hospital because Hans cannot be found. After Hans is involved in a street riot, he comes home ashamed to look Lammchen in the face, but after seeing his son, Hans is encouraged to take care of him. Lammchen reminds Hans that “we created life, so why be afraid of it,” and after Heilbutt arrives with a job offer for Hans in Amsterdam, the baby yawns amidst the adults’ celebration.