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The sly melodies of composer Kurt Weill and the daring of dramatist Bertolt Brecht come together onscreen under the direction of German auteur G.W. Pabst (Pandoras Box) in this classic adaptation of the Weimar-era theatrical sensation. Set in the impoverished back alleys of Victorian London, The Threepenny Opera follows underworld antihero Mackie Messer (a.k.a. Mack the Knife) as he tries to woo Polly Peachum and elude the authorities. With its palpable evocation of corruption and dread, Pabsts Threepenny Opera remains a benchmark of early sound cinema. It is presented here in both its celebrated German and rare French versions.
Note: The aspect ratio of this production is 1.19:1. This specifc ratio is particularly rare as it was used only in Germany prior to World War II, and has not been widely used since.
The stage version of The Threepenny Opera caused a sensation in Berlin when it opened in 1928, and a movie version was quickly sold and shot. This 1931 film actually differs greatly from the stage production, yet it deserves its status as a classic of Weimar-era Germany (it was banned after the Nazis consolidated their power). Both were based on John Gay's famous The Beggar's Opera, but writer Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill added their own layers of genius. The story revolves around Mackie Messer (played by the fearsomely tough Rudolf Forster), also known as "Mack the Knife," a London bad boy whose underworld adventures expose all the hypocrisies and squalor of urban life. Those familiar with the stage score will note that the movie cuts a great deal of Weill's music, in favor of more social criticism; Brecht, high on socialist theory, had largely re-written the play when he turned in his screenplay for the movie. (He was then fired off the project, but many of his new ideas remained.)
Director G.W. Pabst (Pandora's Box) captures both the story's docklands setting and the unmistakable whiff of 1920s Berlin decadence, along with the bitter aftertaste of the original. The music remains stirring, and the indelible Lotte Lenya (Weill's wife and the enduring interpreter of his music) plays Jenny, the slattern Mackie thrusts aside to marry Polly (Carola Neher), daughter of the king of the beggars.
The sheer beauty of the film's black-and-white images is well served by Criterion's release, which also includes a second disc containing L'opera de quat'sous, a French-language version of the film, directed by Pabst simultaneously with the shooting of the German version. Its cast (including Albert Prejean and, in a small role, Antonin Artaud) and lighter tone make it a decidedly less compelling movie than the German take. A 48-minute documentary detailing the story of Threepenny's journey from stage to screen is an unusually good backgrounder; other features include a commentary track, a visual comparison of the German and French versions, and a delightful new introduction for the movie's re-release in East Germany two decades after its making, featuring actors Fritz Rasp and Ernst Busch. --Robert Horton
The movie came out in 1931 and was an adaptation of a Stage play of the same name. This is mostly a musical, with less songs than the play, but the most enduring song form the... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Bwhami
High quality from the archival negative. Little if no artifact on the images. Audio track clear.Published 12 months ago by Gary Sego
Very interesting take on the story with a completely different ending than the stage version.Published 13 months ago by Arthur Runyan
Cool but flawed. Still it's an interesting look at this famous show in its early years...Published 13 months ago by Scott E. Miller
Berthold Brecht was reputedly (by those who knew him) a first class swine and a phoney Communist - but so what? Read morePublished 16 months ago by Peter L. Harriss
Yes, the music is quite different. I had a need to revisit this because its tunes kept popping into my head. Read morePublished 22 months ago by krystalbird
G.W. Pabst's version of `The 3penny Opera' is simply sublime with a formidable casting and a magnificent cast with: Ernst Busch as a street singer, Carola Neher, who died in a... Read morePublished on June 28, 2013 by Luc REYNAERT
I've had the stereo album of die dreigroschenoper for many many years, and didn't know about the film until finding it here. Thanks!Published on March 6, 2013 by Daniel Biehl
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... Read morePublished on December 19, 2010 by Trevor Willsmer