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  • Those who acquired a taste for 1920s Berlin in 'Cabaret' ought to see this film inasmuch as it is the real thing. Lotte Lenya (Weill's wife in real life and the actress who played the evil Rosa Kleb in 'From Russia With Love') and Carola Neher (fled Hitler for the Soviet Union then betrayed by communism -- she died in a communist prison camp in 1942) each offer an unforgettable singing performance. Carola Neher's song alone is worth the price of admission -- she outclasses even Dietrich.
  • returning5 January 2005
    Great musicals always have great people working at every different level in a united way. The script, the songs, the actors, the camera-movements all must stand on their own while contributing to the musical proper. We have classic cases of this where all those involved went their separate ways and were never able to recreate that magic. Instead of this somewhat accidental result, we have here a carefully calculated masterpiece. It was recognised that this was an important social work, and there were a number of things that needed to happen in its execution. They needed Brecht's (a dramatist becoming increasingly fascinated with cinema) cooperation, they got it. They needed a capable expressionistic director, they got it. They needed creative writers to narrow the work down to a typical film length, they got them. They needed strong powerful actors to circumvent any possible lingering sentimentality, they got them as well. This was an age where film was becoming run by the studios, but in creative ways striving to create great art, and we have stunning works like this to prove it.

    5 out of 5 - Essential
  • Sometimes, if I ever feel especially depressed at something going off in the world I like to trot this one out to make me take an even more jaundiced view of things. This surely would be no. 1 in the Top 100 Most Cynical Movies Ever, even after all these years (the simultaneous French version is not so earthy, a more flowery artiness coming out instead). For me, it's the best movie I've seen of Pabst's, most of his post-WW2 stuff has eluded me so far.

    The Guild Of Thieves' leader gets married to the Guild of Beggars' leader's daughter, causing friction between the two highly organised and respected professions, but inertia in the police who are in the Thieves' power. Prostitution, aberration, bigamy, thievery, extortion, bribery, corruption (and complete cynically cheerful indifference to it all), you name it it's here - after all it is all that Man can do! Laconic-looking Ernst Busch's searing inter-ditties leave you with the distinct impression that someone was rather tired with the world! The savage sounding German words spew out, whilst reading the English subtitles is sometimes heavy going in digesting all of the conceptual opinions in time to digest the next. Would that Bobby Darin had got his tonsils round a few more of the extraordinary gossamer Brecht/Weill songs from this! Lotte Lenya sparkled doing her Pirate Jenny number, being just a part of my favourite bit in the idling whorehouse.

    All of the people involved in 3G are "lost to sight", except to the handful of Artheads who occasionally hold cultural revivals of Weill, Brecht or Pabst. There was a memorable series of events in London in 2000 to mark the 50th anniversary of Weill's death, but 99.99% of the general public passed it by.

    Soon we will all be lost to sight too, along with all of our fractious opinions and silly vices.
  • You have to appreciate this is from a time when a battle was being fought over the soul of Germany from the streets to the screen. That was true when Brecht wrote the play, and even more so three years later in this film incarnation. On one side you had Pabst, socially-conscious, humanist, and on the opposite end Riefenstahl's visions of mystical , sensuous and heaven-defying purity (and all that prefigures).

    And I write this from a country that experiences an eerily similar situation almost a century later, is ravaged by recession, well-to-do people of three years ago are now sleeping in benches, and that horror and despair has brought actual neo-Nazis in the parliament and racial hate in the streets. So, this hits unexpectedly close to home, and makes me lament that we don't have talents of Pabst's calibre.

    Ingenious moments in this extremely cynical vision of a world ruled by money include a 'king of beggars' who runs a powerful beggar-union of fake beggars, and a crook who is sprung from prison only to discover he is president of a London bank.

    Pabst plays free and loose with Brecht's text, drops several musical numbers, and makes at least two powerful additions of his own: his ire is aimed at both left and right, with the beggar-union clearly standing in for socialists (their slogans include "give to be given back") who exploit the despair of the people for petty gains, and goes on to show a public riot (only threatened in Brecht) that ends not in triumphant Soviet-revolution but failure and obscurity.

    The guy (with his team of close collaborators) was a genius, just not necessarily in this field.

    Individual scenes are superb, but the whole feels sluggish and protracted. Scenes open several moments before we need the information and end several moments later. And for a film like this, you need a Marx Bros - Dr. Strangelove madcap rhythm to keep the zap of ferocious energy from dissipating.

    But you just need to look at the opening to see what these guys were capable of, what astounding visual language they had refined.

    The sparsity works because they're not going for comedic effect yet. It could be the opening to any type of film, say a melodrama. We are introduced to our crook through a public show in the Italian manner, sung and pointing to illustrated panels of the action (our film), and go on to meet him as he courts and swiftly convinces a young girl to marriage. All of that happens in a matter of minutes, no more than four scenes tops. There is a minimum of dialogue. The courting - a dance of seduction - happens in a dance club, and is actually shown as other couples dancing. We don't hear what he says to her, only lips moving. We only find out later (maybe) when she sings about it.

    Pabst was the master of allusive filmmaking in the late silent era. You just can't afford to miss his Diary of a Lost Girl.

    These days, Eisenstein is the backbone of MTV. You can see Riefenstahl's mark all over the coverage of sports and public events. Expressionism has been made cute and pop. Unlike them, this mode of using a scene to portray unseen bits of narrative that would have been wholly ordinary if simply shown is still new and untapped.
  • 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 soviet prison, as Polly and Lotte Lenya as Jenny. The mass scenes (without the help of computer games) are nothing less than masterful. But, above all are the texts of Bertolt Brecht and the magical songs by Kurt Weill; just delicious stuff.

    This eternal masterpiece doesn't paint a rosy picture of human affairs, with a city (pars pro toto – the world) in the hands of people with shark teeth, venal civil servants and a corrupt police force. Bertolt Brecht formulates in simple words the rules of the game, the basics of human society: first grub, then morals. If the primary conditions for human survival (food, safety) are not available, then there is absolutely no ground for any kind of morality. For Bertolt Brecht, in a 'free for all' society the poor, the vast majority of the population, can only survive by (organized) begging and stealing, by dirty works ('Missetat'). After fighting one another, the crime bosses find a far better solution for the consolidation of their power. They make a super deal, pool their resources and create a financial syndicate of criminals, in other words, a bank, with the former corrupt police chief as CEO. What an awesome prophetic idea! With brilliant theatrical histrionics and a perfect 'London' atmosphere, G.W. Pabst shot an ageless movie masterpiece based on an everlasting opera. A must see.
  • In the last few years before Nazi power overtook the German film industry, Kurt Weill's operetta reached the screen in this effective and well-cast version. Notable for including Lotte Lenya (Weill's wife) as Jenny, it is funny, memorable, imaginatively filmed, and despite the language barrier, does justice to the songs enshrined in popular culture such as ‘Mack the Knife'.

    A giant of early European talkies, this musical has much to recommend to a viewer looking at it after seven decades. An adaptation with songs of John Gay's ‘The Beggar's Opera', it deals with the underworld of crooks, moneylenders, and cut-throats.

    Chief of note in the varied cast are Rudolf Forster as Mackie, Carola Neher as Polly, Fritz Rasp as Peachum, and Ernst Busch as the Street Singer. This movie is one of bitterness and foreboding, and it is excellent.
  • Hard-biting cynicism of governments, crooks, the bourgeoisie, misanthropy, and corruption is as stingingly appropriate today as it was in 1931. The leads are well cast and well executed as gangster Mack the Knife and his bride don't care whose feathers they ruffle. However, both take a backseat to Lotte Lenya's unforgettable portrayal of Pirate Jenny which has stood for 70+ years at finest revenge-dream sequence ever filmed.

    Eerily, one of the sycophantic government stooges is a dead-ringer for Donald Rumsfeld. The incomparable Weill score is reason enough to watch this richly textured, ahead-of-its-time operetta. One thing -- this would be a great candidate for restoration because the copy aired on the PBS stations (where I've seen it twice) is frayed so badly that some sequences are very tough to see.

    Nevertheless, if you're a student of mankind, Die Dreigroschenoper is one you will not wish to miss!
  • The duality of the classic opus is magnificently captured by G. W. Pabst. As the street singer, Ernst Busch perfectly captures the cynicism of the day and Pabst's filming of his songs falling on deaf ears precisely captures the fascination of the Germans with the hypocracy and corruption of the British. If you wish to attempt to understand what made Hitler's rise to power possible, the bitterness and hopelessness captured vividly, cynically, and oh-so-lyrically by this timeless classic provides an unparalleled perspective. Lotte Lenya show-stopping "Pirate Jenny" not only captures up the bitterness and thirst for revenge, but 70 years later still stands as the most memorable song in a movie ever.
  • In London, the rascal Mackie Messer (Rudolf Forster) is the king of the thieves and an irresistible pimp. When he meets Polly Peachum (Valeska Gert) on the street, he invites her for a drink and they marry with each other in the end of the night in a warehouse. When Polly's father Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum (Fritz Rasp) a.k.a. the king of the beggars learns about the marriage of his daughter, he presses the chief of police Jackie "Tiger" Brown (Reinhold Schünzel) to arrest his friend Mackie; otherwise he will send a great number of beggars to protest in the coronation of the queen.

    "Die 3 Groschen-Oper" is a cynical musical with low-life characters in the underground of London written by Bertold Brecht and directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst. This film was released in Berlin on 19 February 1931 and I saw a DVD with a matrix that was restored in 2006 for the 75th anniversary of this film. In 1986, the Brazilian composer Chico Buarque de Holanda and the director Ruy Guerra released an adaptation of this musical with the successful "Ópera do Malandro", the most expensive Brazilian production until 1986, but without the credit to Bertold Brecht. My vote is eight.

    Title (Brazil): "A Ópera dos Três Vinténs" ("The Opera of Three Pennies")
  • I've just seen the restored 2006 German print, and while I found it entertaining, it's almost as long as the stage musical. The film medium can't support this, and after about the first half hour, it becomes claustrophobic and momentum-less, and a great disappointment. I had to fight the urge to pick up the clicker and press fast-forward. Part of the problem seems to me that the screenplay adapter or adapters didn't trust Brecht and Weill's theatrical instincts sufficiently: they left out half the songs (though the sound is remarkably good for 1931) and reordered the ones that were left. Most problematically, they rewrote the ending, with this nonsense of Polly and the gang taking over a bank. No march to the scaffold, no "Ballad of Sexual Dependency", no last-minute pardon from the King...

    Many reviewers here seem to take the London location too seriously. That's just a relic of the John Gay original (The Beggar's Opera): it is most clearly meant to be a satire on Weimar Republic Germany. That's why the Nazis banned it. The real corruption is in the official institutions of power, not in the relatively benign underworld (which reappears in very similar shape and form in Fritz Lange's "M".) Those who don't know Brecht's translations of Gay's original names and texts should learn that MacHeath becomes 'Mackie Messer' (messer mean 'knife' in German, thus 'Mack the Knife'.)

    The best thing about the film, is probably the documentary record it contains of just how the original audiences would have seen the story, and how the original performers would have rendered the songs. I particularly liked the Moritaet-Saenger and his incredible trilled "Rs" in the opening scene.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "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. I'd also recommend getting the wonderful Technicolor film version of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, with Lawrence Olivier playing MacHeath. 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."
  • LeonardKniffel28 September 2019
    Not the first musical one should see when studying the history of musical films, this German curiosity nevertheless features the classic "Mack the Knife." It was also released in French as a completely separate film with a different cast. It's worth hearing in German and marveling at the fact that this Bertold Brecht classic was released in 1931 when Germany was already rumbling with the rise of the Nazis, who banned the film. Set in England, it's a dark story about a murderer, a real contrast to the happy-go-lucky musicals Hollywood was producing, in complete denial of what was going on in Europe. Lotte Lenya is one of the stars, and you'll notice if you listen to the popular English-language version of "Mack the Knife," that the actress becomes part of the lyrics. Definitely a film for the advanced movie scholar. In 1989 an American version (renamed Mack the Knife) was released, starring the often underrated Raul Julia, Richard Harris, Julie Walters, and Roger Daltrey. It's more fun to watch than the 1931 version.
  • 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.

    Set in a dystopian London full of dark shadows and concealed streets, director G. W. Pabst foregrounds the musical's satire of corruption. Macheath's (Rudolf Forster's) gang patrol the streets looking for anything to steal, rivaled only by Peachum's (Fritz Rasp's) gang of would-be beggars who become thoroughly proficient at putting on an act so as to screw more money out of the punters. In this stew of corruption concepts such as marriage mean little - although Macheath marries Polly Peachum (Carola Neher), he scarcely remains faithful to her, preferring to keep his regular Thursday date in the local whorehouse with Jenny (Lotte Lenya) in particular. Sentenced to death by hanging, Macheath eventually escapes from prison and joins Peachum in a huge cartel that dominates the center of London.

    Kurt Weill's music and Brecht's lyrics offer a stinging satire of contemporary life. The tunes might be memorable, but here they are sung with an emotionlessness designed to make viewers reflect on their true meaning. The narrator (Ernst Busch) addresses us direct to camera, not only prompting our responses but warning us about what will happen next. Such techniques are part of the technique known as Verfremdungseffekt, or alienation, designed to prevent us identifying with the characters and thereby forcing us to concentrate on the text's social criticism. Pabst manages this aspect of the film extremely well; by the end we fully understand the implications of living in a rapacious society where only the fittest survive.

    Having said that, DIE 3 GROSCHEN-OPER is also a very funny film. There is one particularly memorable set piece taking place in an isolated warehouse where Macheath and Polly are due to be married by a timorous Reverend (Hermann Thimig) who is looking for any excuse to escape at the earliest possible opportunity. The fact that he cannot do so attests to the strength of Macheath's gang.

    Brilliantly restored in the early 2000s, Pabst's film combines early sound techniques and a clever management of space to produce an acknowledged classic, as timely today as it was when it first appeared over eight decades ago.
  • The movie isn't a filmed version of the stage play and doesn't pretend to be. It moves along at a sometimes creaky, sometimes disjointed pace. And when does it take place? There was no coronation of anybody in Victorian England, and I don't believe they had telephones. But those are quibbles. The thrill of it is the art direction - the expressionistic sets, set decoration and costumes are wonders. All those steep staircases! Those "London" streets! Terrific.

    I wonder if some of the disjointed sequences and odd pacing of the movie result from the fact that it's a reconstruction, the original having gone the way of all entartete art in Nazi Germany.
  • J. Steed7 March 1999
    This adaptation of Brecht/Weill's Musikspiel is considered by many a classic masterpiece. Classic it may be (and as such historically important), but a masterpiece it is not. I am not interested in the changes vis-a vis the play: recent research has found out that most changes were already proposed by Brecht himself and other research has found out that Brecht was not the writer at all, but Elisabeth Hauptmann. Nor am I interested in the fact that Weill's music is reduced and that not all songs are performed, which was unavoidable.

    The point is that although there was real potential for a masterpiece (set designer, cast, director, cameraman etc.), Pabst never succeeds in making this adaptation into a real filmic adaptation. Scenes are presented in order, but never there is a feeling of a close and tightly held drama; the film is more or less subdivided. This may have been on purpose (considering the structure of the play), but for me it just does not work as film. It seems if no real choice was made between a documentation of the play or a truly filmic adaptation; what we are left with is something that lies in between, and that never comes alive. Are we seeing the result of all the (judicial) troubles director and writers had with Brecht and Weill? Or were the makers just too involved in making a masterpiece?

    So, is this a mediocre or even bad picture? Certainly not. Individual scenes are fine due to sets and cast and the way in which Wagner and Pabst know how to use them (no room here to analyze this). But, on the other hand: do we really see or feel a menacing threat from the army of beggars? Do we really need Ernst Busch as the street singer?; do his scenes really add something? And are most songs not just registered as if they were performed on a stage? And is the editing not just adequate?

    Today was my 5th or 6th viewing. I still cannot see why this film ever could be acclaimed a masterpiece.
  • While the Criterion DVD version of this film has great picture and sound quality, that doesn't address the movie's primary failure -- it does not resemble the play. Most of the music is gone. What's left has either been shortened or rearranged. Most notably, it's not the same story. Others have commented on the altered ending. Also, the relationship of Polly and Mackie, which was presented as true love in the play, has become a cavalier, defiant, almost frivolous encounter.

    While the play had a significant amount of comedy, the movie has substituted physical slapstick for comedic dialog. The play also had some earthy lines that were probably too strong for a movie, and a political message that the movie determinedly avoids.

    There are some great CD recordings of the play, including a 1958 version with Lotte Lenya. Listening to one of those while reading the English translation is a lot more satisfying than the movie.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    When the play was originally staged, the heroine, Polly Peachum was just too mild and the hero, Mr. Peachum too old and crotchety and besides MacHeath and Jenny Diver had become larger than life characters. Originally Jenny Diver was just one of MacHeath's many girls but because of her powerful voice was given 2 duets to sing with Mack the Knife - "The Procurer's Ballad" and "What Keeps a Man Alive". She was also given "Pirate Jenny", a song originally written for Polly Peachum. It was an over the top fantasy about a kitchen maid who becomes captain of a pirate ship and decides which prisoners to kill - "All of them"!!! It was no surprise that the role of Jenny was assigned to Kurt Weill's wife Lotte Lenya.

    Unfortunately, the only song Lotte got to sing in the movie was a not very inspired version of "Pirate Jenny" - critics raved about her raspy, powerful voice but here she sang very sweetly!! Even though Pabst's film differed much from the play it still retained it's social satire and challenged conventional ideas of proprietary - "Who is the greater criminal - he who robs a bank or he who founds one"!!! While the play was set in an imaginary 19th century London, Pabst, who was the master of screen realism, decided to reverse his approach and built up a fantastical universe, greatly enhanced by Andrej Andrejew's moody settings. The brothel scene is particularly effective with it's many useless ornaments and it's over powering statues. The commentator is a balladeer who appears at regular intervals with songs that make the narrative flow - everything adds to the dreamlike atmosphere. Brecht and Weill sold the movie rights with the strict instructions that nothing must be changed - they sued Warners and Nero and won. The reason - most of the songs were omitted and Lotte Lenya, instead of being one of the stars was really now only a featured player.

    "Mack the Knife" tells you all you need to know about the mysterious McHeath - always on the scene when murders, robberies and rapes are committed but is never questioned, thanks to his very close friendship with the Chief of Police aka "Tiger" Brown. He is about to be married to Polly Peachum (Carola Neher) and the setting is eerie, a thieve's den down by the docks, full of stolen bric-a-brac, a candleabra, grandfather clock, tapestries, kingly chairs, sumptuous food (lots of bananas!!). Polly sings the evocative "No" showing why fine up standing gentlemen will always receive a "No" from her.

    Her father J.J. Peachum (Fritz Rasp) is the King of the London Beggars - and he does a roaring trade, for 50% of their takings he coaches the poor in the gentle art of begging and shows them the different ways to get a gentleman to part with their money!! When he realises that his Polly has joined forces with Mack the Knife he threatens the police that if Mackie is not caught and hanged he will ruin the coming coronation by turning all the London beggars loose among the festivities. Mackie gets wind of the plan and flees, leaving Polly in charge, who then uses all the know how she learned from her father to turn MacHeath's business legitimate. Instead of robbing banks, they now own a bank and Polly is a hard taskmaster, threatening to sack anyone who doesn't give 100%. With Mackie now a bank president and Polly now a part of the coronation her father is finding it almost impossible to stop his plans for a beggar uprising!!!

    Of the few songs left in the score, they are all highlights including the duet between Mackie and "Tiger" Brown - "The Cannon Song" as well as "The Ballad of the Easy Life". Carola Neher, who played Polly to perfection had a ghastly life. An outspoken anti fascist, she and her husband were captured by the Nazis, her little son taken from her and she later died of typhoid in a concentration camp.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    GW Pabst's The 3 Penny Opera is ostensibly the story of a the conflict that arises when master burglar (and leader of a burglar guild) Mack the Knife marries Polly, the daughter of Peachum, the head of the guild of beggars. Though he prides himself in being the "Poorest man in London," Peachum is actually a very wealthy man who exploits the poor and and perpetuates their misery with his brutally efficient and dehumanizing industrial methods. Yet at the same time, Peachum deludes himself into thinking that he's a respectable man and this gives him a sort of bourgeois dislike for the more straightforward criminal activities of Mack the Knife and his cohorts.

    Almost from the beginning, however, it's clear that the film isn't really about romance or even a feud between rival guilds. Rather, this is a film about a deeply flawed society and the way it sustains itself. Pabst glosses over the romance between Mack and Polly while simultaneously emphasizing the artificiality of the proceedings, specifically with interludes from the type of narrator familiar from stage plays. This serves to accentuate the artificiality of the behavior of Peachum and police chief Tiger Brown, the two authority figures of the narrative, both who only pretend to have the best interests of the common people at heart. In reality, Tiger Brown is happy to pay his respects at obvious criminal Mack's wedding and easily cowed into doing the bidding of Peachum, who plans to use his army of poor beggars to embarrass the chief if he doesn't join Peachum's cause. At the same time, the burglar's guild uses their ill-gotten gains to purchase a bank with the implication that it's more efficient to rob people this way than by breaking into their homes.

    Beset on all sides with enemies, the poor are left with very little outlet and jump at the chance to strike out against their oppressors, though they fail to realize just how close those most responsible for their plight are and are thus led by Peachum and not against him. At the end they fail to make any progress and it seems things will continue as usual, with very little chance for the poor to better themselves. At the same time, their oppressors end the film with more solidarity than ever.

    Pabst is more than equal to his task as director here and he manages to create some striking images, particularly when he pulls into artfully composed close-ups of individuals or small groups, as when Peachum masterfully stirs up his followers or helplessly attempts to stem their tide. Further, he's clever enough to use the fact that this is adapted from a stage play to his advantage as turns the artificiality to his own purposes. In his use of artificiality to suggest the deterministic nature of industrial society, the film reminds me of Joe Wright's recent adaptation of Anna Karenina, though this film is a bit more subtle and much less stylistically over the top.
  • While I adore foreign films and don't at all mind reading the subtitles, I must say that you lose quite a bit when you watch a musical in another language. So, while I score it with a very respectable 7, someone watching it in their own language would probably like it a lot more and might score it higher. This isn't a criticism--more just a fact about watching most foreign language musicals--particularly one with rather old fashioned styles of songs.

    If you aren't familiar with Berthold Brecht's "Three Penny Opera", it's a musical set in the worst parts of London and is all about the low-lifes living there at the time of the Coronation (1901). The 'star' is the dangerous Mack the Knife--a cut-throat who has a reputation for the ladies and for his enemies somehow disappearing...for good. However, this toughie makes the mistake of thinking he can marry the daughter of the King of the Beggars--a very powerful foe who has decided that Mack's temerity deserves death. Will Mackie manage to survive or will the King manage to get rid of his new son-in-law? Tune in if you are interested.

    Apparently the Nazis did not appreciate the play nor the playwright nor the guy who orchestrated the play/film (Kurt Weill). While the film makes the British look pretty bad (considering they all seem to either be cops on the take, pimps, thieves and the like), Brecht was a leftist and these leanings are occasionally obvious in the film (such as when the beggars approach the new queen). As for Weill, he was a Jew--and that alone was reason for the film being banned.

    As for me, I appreciated the look of the film most of all. Veteran director G. W. Pabst did a nice job at the helm and the film looked very nice--with lovely sets and nice cinematography. The acting was also good, though I am not sure if the thin singing was due to the actors or just primitive sound technology. As for the songs, they are most likely an acquired taste. For me, they seemed too short and lacked the nice harmony of, say a Rogers & Hammerstein musical. This isn't to say the songs are bad--just a style that threw me a little--much of it because it was like a musical with very, very little music. All in all, entertaining and worth seeing.

    By the way, the character Jennny (Lotte Lenya) was played by the same lady who three decades later played the incredibly scary agent Klebb in "From Russia With Love". Also, Vladimir Sokoloff (a familiar face in Hollywood) played the jailer just before he fled the new Nazi regime.

    Also, by the way, because I am a history teacher, I was confused a bit by the coronation aspect of the film. They never talked about the King (Edward VII) but talked about the Queen being crowned. This didn't make sense to me, as Alexandra was not their sovereign--just the reigning King's wife. In other words, the person being crowned was Edward, not his Queen.

    And finally, if you find the Criterion DVD, it has a great special feature--the French language version made simultaneously by Pabst--using a different cast but it's essentially the same film. This may seem strange, but at the time they didn't know how to dub films in multiple languages and even Hollywood was making alternate language versions of its films. A few examples include a Spanish version of "Dracula" (1931) with the exact same sets but Mexican actors. Also, Laurel & Hardy were such huge international stars that Hal Roach Studios made French, German, Italian and Spanish films--with Stan and Ollie phonetically delivering their lines to speakers of that language (as well as some appearances by American supporting actors like James Finlayson).
  • GW Pabst was a master director of German cinema, especially excelling at his direction of actresses and developing their acting skills (i.e. Louise Brooks being a primary example). Bertholt Brecht's play is a classic and have always hugely appreciated the music of Kurt Weill (i.e. 'Street Scene'). Lotte Lenya left a huge impression on me when introduced to her as one of the great Bond villains in 'From Russia With Love' and she was every bit as talented a singer. So there was so much potential for 'The Threepenny Opera' to work.

    And it mostly does work, quite well. 'The Threepenny Opera' may not be for those that prefer their stage to film adaptations to be one hundred percent faithful, which they seldom are in general. The anti-capitalist content is toned down, which left Brecht incensed, and it is a shame that several of the songs are cut and the order of the songs intact is at times re-arranged. It is not one of Pabst's best films, it's no 'Diary of a Lost Girl' for example, but his not so masterful films still always had interest value and so does 'The Threepenny Opera'. A film most notable for its incredible visuals and Lenya.

    'The Threepenny Opera' has a lot of great things. Visually, the film is an absolute triumph. Not just the very evocative and at times elaborate sets and the at times eerie lighting, but especially the absolutely superb cinematography (some of the very best of that year, the best of it making the jaw drop). While some of the placement was questionable, the songs included are wonderful. "Mack the Knife" is considered a classic for very good reason and one can understand how today it is a big band favourite.

    Dialogue is emotionally complex and while wordy it doesn't ramble. The story may be toned down politically, but is mostly compelling and the bold mood of the play is intact. Complete with some greatly executed scenes. The ending still astounds. The message still resonates and while it makes its point it doesn't overdo it in my view. Pabst's direction at its best is masterly, especially visually. Lenya re-creates the role that she portrayed on stage to legendary effect and her performance is utterly bewitching, her major solo is unforgettably performed and staged. Rudolf Forster makes Mackie a hard to dislike rogue. Carola Neher is a charming Polly and Fritz Rasp is formidable as Peachum.

    Not everything works though. There are pacing problems where the film does at times badly lag. A primary example being the wedding scene, which goes on for far too long and feels very drawn out. The slapstick is not particularly amusing this time and comes over as clownish and not always merging with the atmosphere.

    Some of the story is slightly disorganised too and the re-ordering of the songs doesn't always come off. "The Cannon Song" for instance feels very out of place and makes very little sense being placed at that point in the drama.

    Overall though, impressive but to be taken on its own terms. 7/10
  • "While the performance is mostly stagey - the bowler-clad, raffish Forster is nonchalant from stem to stern, a demure Neher (whose own personal tragedy during the WWII would overshadow her final screen presence) keeps her character alive and kicking with nothing much to offer; Schünzel is the comic relief here, discombobulated and antsy while Rasp is a tinpot leader, but the real deal here is Lenya, with her unusual underbite, she can belt out poignantly, but in the next breath, stuns as a cunning vamp who can sell her lover down the river, yet, that isn't her verdict -, Pabst gins up the beggar-belief storytelling with steadfast visual idioms (superimpositions, dolly shots, including an antic of a self-elevating bowler!), and really goes the distance with the marching lumbering mass climax, zombie-like and unstoppable, the proletariat power wanes in favor of a veiled validation of capitalism, for sure Brecht is not happy about that."
  • gavin694224 February 2017
    In London at the turn of the century, the bandit Mack the Knife marries Polly without the knowledge of her father, Peachum, the 'king of the beggars'.

    This film strikes me as being very much in the same world as "M". We have some criminal alliances, a whole world underground, and some shady characters. No child murderers, but still. And apparently it was even supposed to star peter Lorre at some point, which would only have increased the connection.

    I am not familiar with the play, but this film is excellent and really cements Pabst's reputation. I could probably take or leave the songs, but this is an "opera" after all.
  • A gritty 1931 German film version of The Threepenny Opera directed by Pabst, written by Brecht and featuring Lotte Lenya.... how could it NOT be a classic? Well, maybe for some. In my opinion this film is an adequate re-telling, but nothing more. As I stated previously, it has all the ingredients for a masterpiece, yet it is surprisingly flat and uninvolving for the most part. The German language used in a story that takes place in London is oft-putting to start, although there is a linguistic chauvinism in that, I admit, considering the endless Hollywood films that take place all over the world with Americans substituting for German, French, Russian, Asian, and even African speaking people. Still, it would've been less distracting if the story and characters had been transported to a Berlin or Munich setting, and wouldn't have harmed the film one bit (perhaps it was politically better for the filmmakers to keep all this vice in London... which makes me wonder why the Nazis tried to destroy this film: it certainly doesn't put the English in a very good light!) As to the direction, there is no verve to the musical numbers and little tension in the dramatic moments. The singers, including the vaunted Lenya, merely face forward and stand stock-still while mostly talk-singing their songs. Lenya, in fact, is only a supporting performer and makes no more an impression than any other. She has one long singing number that she performs with sly wit, but it actually stops the film dead in its tracks. The real star parts are MacHeath, Polly Peachum and the King of the Beggars. Foerster, as MacHeath (Mackie Messer as he's actually called in this film) is neither sly or witty for the most part. He's not well directed and we're left with a dull performance. Rasp as the King of The Beggars is fine as is Carol N. as Polly. When she is called upon to be tough with Mackie's gang she lets rip impressively. But the beggars that should be menacing when confronting the Queen are instead plodding zombies. There is no sense of chaos. Like the beggars, the film plods from scene to scene and song to song. Musically, outside of the famous 'Mack the Knife' melody, nothing lingers in the memory, which might explain why nothing else from the score has ever become popular or even known. As I said, this film has all the markings of a classic, that is until you watch it unfold and become impatient with its mediocrity. At least I did.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Die 3 Groschen-Oper" or "The 3 Penny Opera" is a German movie from 1931, so 85 years old now, that is obviously still in black-and-white, but has sound already. And that is also the crucial thing as this film lives a lot through its music. Director is Georg Wilhelm Pabst, writer is Bertolt Brecht and composer is Kurt Weill. All three of them are still known today, at least here in Germany because of their many contributions to art and the latter was also the husband of Lotte Lenya who plays one of the major characters in here. It is interesting to see her at a younger age because so far I have only come across her as an enemy to James Bond in her probably career-defining villain performance as Rosa Klebb.

    The rest of the cast I have to say I am not familiar with unfortunately although many of them were prolific back then in terms of acting. And I also was not too impressed by what they did here. To me it seemed as if the story is not suited for a movie that crosses the 110-minute mark. It dragged a lot I have to say and I'd have preferred to run this one for 90 minutes max, which also would have been the usual runtime back around that era. Films weren't that long really often. The music is still the best thing about the film I guess, especially the theme song about "Mack the Knife". I knew this one already before watching the film and it certainly stayed in mind. Such a catchy tune. However, 2 or 3 good songs cannot make up for all the boredom I felt throughout watching this drama. I never was at the edge of my seat, so I did not feel this was a dramatic watch at all. Cannot recommend. Thumbs down.
  • I've read the reviews of this film so far with a lot of interest. I found this version of "The Threepenny Opera" to be well worth seeing multiple times. It has a great cast, a complex script and is heroic in some ways while not so heroic in its ending.

    The sell-out ending, a preposterous twist where Polly, temporarily at the head of her husband Macheath's gang, manages somehow for them to buy a bank; and she, Macheath and her 'king of beggars' father all wind up extolling the virtues of feeding off the poor with said bank is hard to stomach for leftist revolutionaries. We can only assume the production was under pressure while it made this film in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis.

    I loved it visually. The cast is exceptional. While I've read everyone's comments about Lotte Lenya's 'Pirate Jenny', I adored Carol Neher's lone song even more. In my view, Neher (as Polly) breaking out in song at her wedding reception, when we know nothing about her character thus far, is the highlight of the film.

    (When we learn what a terrible life she lived after this movie was released one can really appreciate Carola Neher's performance. She must have been an incredible person to work with on a film, particularly during such a time as 1931's Berlin.)

    Overall, Pabst's 'Threepenny' isn't perfect. Still, I recommend it highly. It should be seen by film fans looking to be floored by early sound-era performances that have been criminally forgotten today.
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