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The Threepenny Opera (The Criterion Collection) (1931)

Lotte Lenya , Rudolf Forster , G.W. Pabst  |  Unrated |  DVD
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Lotte Lenya, Rudolf Forster
  • Directors: G.W. Pabst
  • Format: Multiple Formats, NTSC, Black & White, Dolby, Digital Sound, Subtitled
  • Language: English, German
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: Unknown
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: September 18, 2007
  • Run Time: 110 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000SFJ4KE
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,554 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Threepenny Opera (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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 (Pandora’s 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, Pabst’s 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

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
77 of 79 people found the following review helpful
"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 chunks 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.
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a fine Weimar era classic September 25, 2007
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
This review is for the Criterion Collection DVD edition of the film.

The Threepenny Opera, released in Germany as "Die Dreigroschenoper" is a film directed by renowned Germin director G.W. Pabst. The film is based on a play of the same name which is based on John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera."

The film is about Mackie Messer also known as Mack the Knife who marries a woman he loves. Her father is infuriated and tries to have him killed.

The film has anti-capitalist themes which led to it being banned in West Germany after World War II for years, but promoted in East Germany. The film contains some fine songs and accompaniment with the barrel organ.

The release also contains the French language version of the film.

There are some great special features in this double disc set.

Disc one contains the German language version of the film with optional audio commentary by film scholars David Bathrick and Eric Rentschler. Rentschler is an expert on early German films and has written many books on the subject. Also on disc one is a documentary on the story's adaptation into the film.

Disc two contains the French language version of the film (L'opéra de quant'sous) with non-removable English subtitles, a comparison of German and French versions with a split screen side by side look at matching scenes, an interview with Fritz Rasr, and a gallery of production photos by Hans Casparius and sketches by Andrej Andrejew.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Film...but the extras.... February 16, 2008
The film is wonderful. The restoration of the print is shockingly beautiful. I have seen the film many times before, but watching this version was like seeing a whole new film.

The extras are a mixed bag--and aren't they a big part of why we buy Criterion editions? Some are interesting. (Having the entire French version is cool.) But the commentary is really bad. The two profs speaking have only a simpleminded understanding of Brecht's theory of Epic Theater, Gestus, Lehrstuck, etc so their "explanations" are more misleading than informative.

Also, some misinformation in the documentaries. For example, one film expert claims there is link between the stage musical and Weimar cabaret. Lenya famously said that she and Weill never set foot in a cabaret and anyone familiar with what went on there would recognize there was little connection. However, someone who only knows the Weimar cabaret genre from the Kander and Ebb musical which borrows from Threepenny might imagine there is a connection. But shouldn't scholars correct misconceptions, rather than promoting them?

If there was a better commentary track and more accurate documentaries, this would be five-star.
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what the title promises August 24, 1999
Format:VHS Tape
This is a far cry from the stage version with not only several songs missing but what seems to be a rewrite of the script and book. The acting is pre-1931--as one history of cinema puts its, a style we will never see again--and the film techniques are from the silent days. But it has some powerful moments, mostly when the Streetsinger is on screen. Among the visual highlights are the confrontation of the Army of Poor with the Queen (who looks too old to be Victoria), the marriage of Polly and Mack among the purloined furniture and trappings, and the marvelous resolution of the ex-police chief Brown, Mack, and Peachem becoming "respectable" bankers (i.e., thieves). So this is worth a good deal as a social document is but is not worth much as a musical event. (Question: if all the signs of the shops are in English, why do the Poor carry signs in German?)
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
High quality from the archival negative. Little if no artifact on the images. Audio track clear.
Published 1 month ago by Gary Sego
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting adaptation.
Very interesting take on the story with a completely different ending than the stage version.
Published 2 months ago by Arthur Runyan
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Cool but flawed. Still it's an interesting look at this famous show in its early years...
Published 3 months ago by Scott E. Miller
5.0 out of 5 stars Eine Moriataet Ueber den rauber MacHeath - - -
Berthold Brecht was reputedly (by those who knew him) a first class swine and a phoney Communist - but so what? Read more
Published 5 months ago by Peter L. Harriss
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic that endures
Yes, the music is quite different. I had a need to revisit this because its tunes kept popping into my head. Read more
Published 12 months ago by krystalbird
5.0 out of 5 stars First the grub, then morals
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 more
Published 16 months ago by Luc REYNAERT
5.0 out of 5 stars A great find
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 19 months ago by Daniel Biehl
4.0 out of 5 stars "Life is money, food, sex, nothing."
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 more
Published on December 19, 2010 by Trevor Willsmer
5.0 out of 5 stars Macke lives on and on
This was particurlarly enjoyable right after again viewing "Mack the Knife" with Raul Julia and Richard Harris. Read more
Published on March 23, 2009 by Robert E. Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT film, GREAT edition
Though the movie is way off from what Brecht intended in his
stage play, this is THE movie of Threepenny Opera. Read more
Published on March 15, 2008 by Daniel Ruf
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