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The Threepenny Opera (The Criterion Collection)
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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
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
Pabst has created a film version of "Threepenny Opera" which, while not Brecht's own vision of the piece, goes a long way towaard showing us what musical theatre can (and should more often) be.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Filmed just before the Nazis came to power, and banned when they did, DIE 3-GROSCHEN OPER is a brilliant version of the Brecht classic. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Dr. Laurence Raw
I like the Criterion version, but I understand that a revised and remastered edition of this film was made recently -- or so says TCM.
Can anyone tell me more?
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 20 months ago by Bwhami
High quality from the archival negative. Little if no artifact on the images. Audio track clear.Published 23 months ago by Gary Sego
Very interesting take on the story with a completely different ending than the stage version.Published on July 26, 2014 by Arthur Runyan
Cool but flawed. Still it's an interesting look at this famous show in its early years...Published on July 11, 2014 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 on May 7, 2014 by Peter L. Harriss
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