Less revered today than the Bertolt Brecht play or the Kurt Weill songs, G.W. Pabst's film version of "The Threepenny Opera" is still a fine example of pre-Hitler German filmmaking. In the German version available on videocassette (a French version exists with a different cast, while the
planned English version was never completed), Rudolf Forster plays the infamous Mackie Messer, or Mack the Knife, an underworld gangster of the 1890s whose territory is London. A dashing and respected criminal, Mackie is best of friends with the corrupt police chief, Tiger Brown (Reinhold
Schunzel). After meeting Polly (Carola Neher), Mackie decides to marry her. In a dusty underground warehouse--the room lavishly prepared with goods stolen from London's top shops--the wedding is attended by a crowd of beggars and thieves, as well as Tiger Brown. Polly, however, is the daughter of
Peachum (Fritz Rasp), the king of the beggars, who strongly opposes the marriage. He puts pressure on Tiger Brown to send Mackie to the gallows, threatening to organize a beggars' revolt to disrupt the queen's upcoming coronation if the police chief does not accede to his wishes.
Based on the John Gay satire of 1728, "The Beggar's Opera," Pabst's film lacks the punch that made the Brecht-Weill collaboration so potent when it hit the stage in 1928. The sting of social criticism is lessened here, with greater emphasis placed on dramatics; in fact, Brecht was so disappointed
with the director's interpretation that he ended his own work on the screenplay. What the film lacks in Brechtian qualities, however, it makes up for in the aesthetics of Pabst. Having previously exposed the seedier side of London in the silent PANDORA'S BOX, Pabst once again brings it to the
screen here in a unique mixture of realism and expressionism, taking great care to evoke the textures of London's underworld--populated by the lowest of lowlifes--in both his visuals and his soundtrack. Although there is a noticeable absence of some of Weill's tunes--"Ballad of Sexual Dependency,"
"The Ballad for the Hangman," and "The Tango Ballad"--the film does open and close with the Ernst Busch rendition of "Moritat," a song which became the 1957 pop music hit "Mack the Knife." Also prominently featured is "Pirate Jenny" (Brecht-Weill), delivered by the inimitable Lenya.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Less revered today than the Bertolt Brecht play or the Kurt Weill songs, G.W. Pabst's film version of "The Threepenny Opera" is still a fine example of pre-Hitler German filmmaking. In the German version available on videocassette (a French version exists… (more)