MEPHISTO (director/writer: Istvan Szabo; screenwriters: based on a novel by Klaus Mann/Peter Dobai; cinematographer: Lajos Koltai; editor:  Zsuzsa Csakany; music:  Zdenko Tamassy; cast: Klaus Maria Brandauer (Hendrik Hofgen), Krystyna Janda (Barbara Bruckner), Ildiko Bansagi (Nicoletta von Niebuhr), Karin Boyd (Juliette Martens), Rolf Hoppe (The General), Christine Harbort (Lotte Lindenthal), Gyorgy Cserhalmi (Hans Miklas), Christian Grashof (Cesar Von Muck); Runtime: 144; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Manfred Durniok; Warner Home Video; 1981-Hungary/Austria//West Germany-in German/in English)

"A compelling melodrama, essentially a revisiting of Goethe's version of the Faust legend, revised for the pre-war Nazi rise to power period."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A compelling melodrama, essentially a revisiting of Goethe's version of the Faust legend, revised for the pre-war Nazi rise to power period. It's about a second-rate Leftist provincial actor, Hendrik Hofgen (Klaus Maria Brandauer, Austrian actor), known for his interpretation of Mephistopheles, making a Faustian bargain with the Nazis to be their puppet in order to achieve success in the theater.

Hungarian director Istvan Szabo ("Taking Sides"/"Being Julia"/"Sunshine") does a good job in depicting the allure of  fascism, in the first of his trilogy films about immorality and unabashed ambition. The other two were Colonel Redl and Hanussen. It's based on a 1936 novel by Jewish author Klaus Mann, the son of Thomas Mann, and is co-written by Szabo and Peter Dobai. Mann based the book on the life of German actor Gustaf Gryndgens, married to his sister Erika. It's set in Germany, in the 1920s.

Failed egotistical small-town actor Hendrik Hofgen aspires to greatness by staging revolutionary pro-worker plays with his amateur theater group. Getting nowhere, despite marrying someone he doesn't love because her father has clout in the theater, the opportunistic Hendrik then hooks up with the National Socialist Party when fascism begins to gain popularity in Germany. The actor's wife in the meantime flees to France as an anti-Nazi while hubby betrays his family and his actor friends, who are sent to concentration camps. Hendrik rationalizes his actions by saying he's only an actor and needs to be respected as an actor. Hendrik willingly performs Nazi propaganda plays and is pleased that he's making a name for himself with the Nazi party bigs, as he sucks up to the evil, Hermann Goering like General (Rolf Hoppe), the culture minister, and rises to become head of the National Theater.

Brandauer's electric flamboyant performance overrides the film's conventional presentation and brings out an emotional outpouring to the chilling political story about the corruption of power, but it never hit a nerve as its revelations were old hat.

It won an Oscar for best foreign film.

REVIEWED ON 2/25/2014       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"