Once a staple of critics' ten best ever lists, neither version of G.W. Pabst's once controversial adaptation of The Threepenny Opera offered on this impressive two-disc set has quite stood the test of time as well as hoped. Shot in different languages and with different casts - fairly commonplace in the early days of sound - they do make an interesting contrast, though. The German version has a harder heart, more severity and the better rendition of Mack the Knife, but the lighter French version has a more charming Mack the Knife (or Mackie the Knifeman as they insist on calling him) in Albert Prejean: it's hard to see Rudolf Forster's German incarnation, more prop than performance, being able to dominate a housewife let alone the London underworld. Fine technique and great production design, but it often feels more of a technical exercise than a real cry from the streets.
Any disappointment in the films are amply compensated for with the great extras on the Criterion Region 1 NTSC DVD, though, including a rather interesting documentary on the doomed lawsuit Brecht launched against Pabst for distorting his work alongside both the French and German versions. Curiously another extra on the differences between the two versions reveals that Brecht was more excited about the casting of the French Polly Peachum (Florelle) than the German one (Carola Neher) because he and Lotte loved her voice. Unfortunately she's not as commanding as she needs to be when taking over the gang, but ain't that always the problem with screen musicals - you either get someone who can sing but can't act or someone who can act but can't sing. (Incidentally, Antonin Artaud turns up as the 'new beggar' in the French version.)
The BFI's UK PAL DVD includes both German and French versions of the film but no extras other than liner notes.
on 31 December 2010
Made in 1931,"Die Dreigroschenopern" shows what you could do with the musical,just a few years before Busby Berkely,Fred Astaire and the like turned it into bland,insipid boredom.
Made just a few years after the stage version,it sounds like very early recordings of the Brecht/Weil stage show.A weird version of London is the background to the adventures of Mack the Knife.Mrs.Peachum and so on.
A bonus is the French language version of the film,made simultaneously with the German version.Follow the subtitles to see the similarities and differences between the two different languages.An English-language version was planned but never made.If you wish,buy a CD of the Marc Blitzstein translation into English and compare and contrast.
If you're interested in Brecht or Weil or the early history of musicals,watch.
"You gents who to a virtuous life would lead us
And turn us from all wrongdoing and sin,
First of all see to it that you feed us
Then start your preaching. That's where to begin..."
Bertolt Brecht was a hard-nosed socialist, an unpleasant and selfish gent who often took others' ideas and transformed them into something uniquely forceful and original. He believed that the proletariat struggle against the bourgeoisie was unending. When he and the composer Kurt Weill, equally original and talented in Weimar Germany, but who was not nearly so politically rigid or so personally obnoxious, collaborated on Die Dreigoschenoper in 1928, it probably flabbergasted them both to have a huge popular success on their hands. Much of the reason is Weill's clever, pungent score, but a lot of the credit goes to Brecht's utter cynicism about how the privileged behave to the workers. Says one of Threepenny's characters, "The rich of this world have no qualms about causing misery but can't stand the sight of it." The movie G. W. Pabst made from the theater production eliminates great junks of Weill's music. One would think this would be a terrible mistake. What we have, however, is a movie of social criticism that is so cynical with such self-serving characters that the songs Pabst kept seem to lift an already excellent film into greatness.
We're seeing the story of Mackie Messer (Rudolf Forster), a man as charming as a snake. He's a murderer, a rapist, an arsonist, a thief...all tools of his trade. Mackie in his tight suit, grey bowler hat and with his ivory cigar holder preys on others. We learn all about Mackie when a street singer (Ernst Busch) entertains the crowd with stories of his crimes. When Mackie "marries" Polly Peachum (Carola Neher), however, he encounters the wrath of Mr. Peachum (Fritz Rasp), London's king of the beggars. Soon Mackie's great pal, Tiger Brown (Reinhold Schunzel), London's chief of police, cannot protect Mackie when Peachum threatens to unleash all his beggars during Queen Victoria's coronation celebrations. Eventually, Mackie is betrayed and cast into jail, soon to be hanged. But the Threepenny Opera insists on a happy ending, just as in the movies. Polly has shown herself to be a great captain of thieves while Mackie was jailed. Tiger Brown, while dismissed as police chief has nonetheless rescued a great deal of money. Mr. Peachum's wily ways come into play. And Mackie sees no great issues that threats and money can't solve. They all agree that instead of robbing others illegally, why not start a bank so they can rob everyone legally? And with this happy end, we all are satisfied.
Pabst has created a wonderful visual sense of the time and place in Victorian Soho. There's a lot of shadowy lighting that underscores the rotten society that Brecht and Weill are serving us with such style. The songs that were kept in the movie catch us up in amused cynicism ("Mack the Knife"), the cynicism for naive love ("The Wedding Song for Poor People"), the cynicism of realistic love ("Polly's Song"), the rousing cynicism of the military ("Cannon Song") and, powerfully, the cynicism of resentment ("Pirate Jenny"). Lotte Lenya, Weill's wife, who plays the maid in Mackie's favorite brothel and has been one of Mackie's many conquests, sings this with such intensity and, at the end, cheerfulness, it will curl your toes. The warehouse where Mackie "marries" Polly has been made into a mansion of luxury and love that's as phony as lipstick on a pig. The bankers and police officers are the epitome of rectitude and are as hypocritical as many a mortgage lender's handshake. Barely underneath this surface of mutual use bubbles the corruption, as Weill and Brecht would have it, of the rich, the powerful and the complacent. It doesn't take much to remember the paintings of George Grosz, with all those fat, greasy-lipped bankers, wearing nothing but underwear and top hats, lolling in the arms of sweating, fat prostitutes. The Marc Blitzstein translation of The Threepenny Opera (1954 New York Cast) (Blitzstein Adaptation) that became a huge hit on Broadway in 1954 may have softened the edges a bit of Brecht's class war, but Weill's music and Brecht's lyrics (as translated by Blitzstein) still give one of the best ideas of how effective the score and the stage production continue to be.
Pabst's movie of The Threepenny Opera, in my opinion, rates the over-used term of being a classic. The Criterion DVD transfer is in very good shape. The extras are important to learn about the period, about Brecht and Weill and why Pabst made the changes from the stage production he did, much to Brecht's anger. Criterion on a second disc includes the French version of the movie, filmed simultaneously as this German version, but with a French cast. I'd also recommend getting the Region 2 DVD of Lawrence Olivier playing MacHeath in the wonderful Technicolor film version of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera. It was John Gay, after all, who started all this.
Let's let Brecht and Weill have the last words...
"How does a man survive?
By daily cheating, mistreating, beating others, spitting in their face.
Only the man survives who's able to forget
That he's a member of the human race."
on 30 August 2010
With great direction by the Director of "PANDORAS BOX",this early classic musical stands the test of time.One of Pabsts best films,it is an adaptation Bertolt Brechts'play,and covers the criminal underbelly, complete with brothels,of turn of the century Soho.Whilst not as good a film as say "Cabaret",it is well acted ,with superb cinematography and any early film fan, should n't hesitate to buy it!As a fascinating bonus,on a second disc ,it shows you the French version,made in french with mostly, totally different actors ,but the same Director.Both the German version and the French are fascinatingly different!and offer the film buff and student an interesting insight into the early talky process.Both versions are well restored prints.
Everyone else has told you the entire negative about this film. However there was nothing that is not said about most films tat are adaptations of plays or books. Remember folks, this is a different media and should be judged with that criterion in mind. Now you can pick on sound and picture quality. Yet again you need to keep the time of production and copy quality in mind.
I also think that this makes a better stage play and the variations in performances intriguing. However as with listening to the radio in the car, it is the best we can do to keep the memory of the actual orchestra. So when we have to listen to Wayne Newton, we can still imagine “Mack die Messer” No time in 113 minutes for all the songs.
This play was not anti Nazi it is the other way around. The Nazi regime did not like this play because it showed how illegitimacy could rise to respectability. And as they say in “Harry Potter” books, “you know who,” thought that this was too close to the truth. If you are into movies that irk Nazi’s try “Westfront 1918 (1930)” Directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst. You may have to search but it is out there.
Anyway, this is a good movie and worth watching. And watching again.