EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|THREEPENNY OPERA, THE (DIE DREIGROSCHENOPER) (director: G. W. Pabst; screenwriters: Leo Lania/Bela Balazs/Laszlo Wajda/adapted from the stage version of Bertoldt Brecht and Kurt Weill/inspired by The Beggar's Opera story by John Gay; cinematographer: Fritz Arno Wagner; editor: Jean Oser; music: Kurt Weill; cast: Rudolf Forster (Mackie Messer), Carola Neher (Polly), Reinhold Schünzel (Tiger-Brown), Fritz Rasp (Peachum), Valeska Gert (Mrs. Peachum), Lotte Lenja (Jenny), Hermann Thimig (The Vicar), Ernst Busch (The Street Singer), Wladimir Sokolow (Smith, the Jailer), Paul Kemp (Mackie Messer's Gang Member); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Seymour Nebenzal; Criterion Collection; 1931-France/Germany-in German with English subtitles)|
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
German filmmaker G. W. Pabst ("Westfront 1918"/"Adventures
Quixote"/"Diary of a Lost Girl") directs
this landmark classic of an early sound film: a scathing social satire.
It's inspired by "The Beggar's Opera"
(1728) story by the Englishman John Gay.
Pabst takes his cues from the original stage version of Gay's book by
the German playwright Bertoldt Brecht
and the German composer Kurt Weill, but when unhappy
with Brecht's rewrite of his own stage version he goes his own way. The
screenwriters are Leo Lania, Bela
Balazs and Laszlo Wajda. The
designed the studio settings, which are fine but not an accurate
depiction of Soho during the turn-of-the-century.
In Victorian London, womanizer, pimp, suave gentleman,
murderer, thief and racketeer Mack the Knife (Rudolf Forster) is saying in
his own way goodbye to Jenny Diver (Lotte Lenja, wife of Kurt Weill), one of
his many lovers, at the
door of her
Soho brothel. While
walking down the street he meets Polly Peachum (Carola Neher), the daughter
of the feared king of beggars, Peachum (Fritz Rasp), walking with
the jailer's daughter Lucy, and
invites them both for a drink in the
underground pub he regularly frequents.
decides to marry Polly that night and
instructs his henchmen to steal a
wedding dress and a complete set of home furnishings, including a
grandfather clock. He also orders them to invite Tiger Brown (Reinhold
Schünzel), the corrupt chief of
police to the ceremony. The chief is an old army buddy of Mack's from
India, who is on his payroll. The unlikely couple are married by the
vicar. When the powerful Peachum, who every beggar
London owes allegiance to and no one can beg without a license
from him, learns of the marriage, he's furious and
demands that Brown arrest Mackie. Brown refuses. Thereby Peachum
threatens to disrupt the approaching coronation
of the English queen, which will surely cost Brown his job. Afraid of
what her father will do to her hubby, Polly convinces him to go into
hiding and let her run his crooked business operation. But Mack can't
resist his regular visit to Jenny at the whorehouse. Mrs. Peachum (Valeska Gert), aware of
Mack's whoring habits, informs Jenny of Mack's marriage. An angry Jenny
tells the cops when her man arrives. But she soon changes her mind and
helps him escape. Nevertheless the cops seize him hiding in a room with
under Polly's leadership, Mack's gang has taken over a
bank to rob people legally, and she becomes the bank president.
is under the impression that Brown let Mack escape and has his beggars
demonstrate at the coronation, but can't halt it when realizing his
daughter is the bank president and it's not to his advantage to shake
up the capitalist rulers anymore because his family has now become part
of the establishment.
remorseful Jenny helps Mack escape, and he takes refuge in the bank.
Peachum finds he can no longer control his beggars, who continue to
protest despite his appeals for them to stop (power to the
people). Peachum like Brown now openly become part of Mack's boys at
of it is heavy-going fare and the dialogue is particularly labored,
even though the film was deemed a success at the box office and with
song Mack the Knife, sung by the street busker (Ernst Busch), is memorable.
It cuts right to the heart of the story and shows the pic's ability to
connect with the public, as its lyrics tell of urban streetlife filled
with despair, crime and corruption by telling Mack the Knife's story as
a criminal who finds that 'crime does pay.'
wanted the pic to be more anti-capitalist and polemical from the stage
version, and rewrote the stage version to have Mack become a banker.
The capitalist producers were not pleased and allowed Pabst to patch
things together by using some things from the stage version, some from
Brecht's rewrite (he kept Mack as a banker) and other scenarios Pabst
rewrote himself. Pabst also dropped several songs from the stage
version, which further bothered the stage creators. Brecht sued and
lost. The more cautious Weill settled with the producers and became
saves the pic are the excellent performances, that it retains the
satirical power of the original stage version and the terrific score.
REVIEWED ON 2/22/2011 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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