AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Die Dreigroschenoper
Alternate Title: The Threepenny Opera
Director: G. W. Pabst (Dir)
Release Date:   1931
Premiere Information:   Berlin opening: 19 Feb 1931
Production Date:   in Berlin, Germany
Duration (in mins):   97
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Cast:   Rudolph Förster (Mackie Messer)  
    Carola Neher (Polly Peachum)  
    Reinhold Schünzel (Tiger Brown)  
    Fritz Rasp (Peachum)  
    Valeska Gert (Mrs. Peachum)  
    Lotte Lenya (Jenny)  
    Herman Thimig (The pastor)  
    Ernst Busch (The street singer)  
    Wladimir Sokoloff (Jailer)  
    Paul Kemp (Gang member)  
    Gustav Püttjer (Gang member)  
    Oscar Höcker (Gang member)  
    Kraft Roschig (Gang member)  
    Herbert Grünbaum (Filch)  

Summary: As he is leaving Jenny at the doors of a brothel, Mackie Messer, a pimp and gangster, sees Polly Peachum, the daughter of the king of beggars, on the street with her mother and immediately invites them into a local pub for a drink. He has already decided that he will marry Polly and instructs his men to steal a wedding dress and a complete set of home furnishings, including a grandfather clock. He orders them to invite Tiger Brown, the chief of police to the ceremony. While one of Mackie's men dances with Mrs. Peachum, Mackie and Polly come to an understanding. That evening Polly and Mackie are married, and Brown is one of the guests. Every beggar in London owes allegiance to Peachum; no one can beg without a license from the king of beggars. Peachum is furious when he learns of Polly's marriage, and out of revenge, he demands that Brown arrest Mackie. When Brown refuses, Peachum threatens to disrupt the approaching coronation of the English queen, which will cost Brown his job. When Polly learns of her father's actions, she warns Mackie to go into hiding, asking him to stay away from other women, particularly those in the brothel. Mackie turns over his business to Polly, but he has no intention of passing up his regular visit to Jenny. Knowing his habits, Mrs. Peachum brings the police to the brothel to wait for Mackie. She tells Jenny of Mackie's marriage and asks her to betray him. Angered by the news, Jenny signals to the police when Mackie arrives, but has a change of heart and helps him escape over the roofs. He hides with another prostitute, but the police capture him when he leaves her room. Meanwhile, under Polly's leadership, Mackie's gang has taken over a bank; from now on they will rob people legally. Peachum, believing that Brown was responsible for Mackie's escape, organizes the beggars. When Mrs. Peachum tells him that Polly is now married to a bank president, he tries to stop the demonstration, but the poor people have organized and no one can stop them. The demonstration stops the coronation. Feeling remorse for her part in Mackie's imprisonment, Jenny helps him escape. Mackie and Brown take refuge in the bank and reminisce about their service as soldiers in the Indian army. Having lost power over his beggars, Peachum comes to Mackie and asks to to join in his future exploits. 

Production Company: Gemeinschaft mit Tobis  
  Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Director: G. W. Pabst (Dir)
Writer: Leo Lania (Scr)
  Béla Balázs (Scr)
  Ladislaus Vajda (Scr)
Photography: Fritz Arno Wagner (Photog)
Art Direction: Andre Andreiev (Settings)
Film Editor: Hans Oser (Ed)
Music: Theo Makeben (Mus dir)
  Kurt Weill (Mus)
Sound: A. Jansen (Sd)
Country: Germany and United States
Language: German

Source Text: Based on the opera Die Dreigroschenoper , book and libretto by Bertholt Brecht, music by Kurt Weill (Berlin, 13 Oct 1928), which was based on the play The Beggar's Opera by John Gay (London, 29 Jan 1728).
Authors: John Gay
  Kurt Weill
  Bertholt Brecht

Physical Properties: Sd:

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Social
Subjects (Major): Beggars
  Moral corruption
  Political corruption
Subjects (Minor): Bankers
  London (England)

Note: According to Var , this film, which is known in English as The Threepenny Opera , was the first to run in Warner Bros.' new foreign language theater on Broadway in New York City. NYT notes that Carola Neher, Lotte Lenya and Rudolph Förster reprised their stage roles for the film and comments that only Förster's face seemed suitable to the screen. NYT also mentions lawsuits brought against the production by Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht, who were hired to adapt their play to the screen. According to modern sources, when Die Dreigroschenoper was sold to Warner Bros., Brecht stipulated that nothing in the original stage version could be changed. He intended the movie to be a severe satire of capitalism, but Pabst wanted it to be more entertaining. Claiming that certain important ideological elements were deleted from the original play, Brecht and Weill sued the German production company in Berlin, asking for the production to be stopped on copyright grounds. Brecht, who quit in the midst of production, was accused of breach of contract and his suit was turned down. Weill, who continued working with the producers until fired, won his case. The German film was banned by the Nazis in August 1933 because of its unmistakable relevance to the political and social circumstances in Germany at the time. The German censors destroyed the original negative and every print they could find. Carola Neher was executed by the Nazis in 1940. In 1960, a reconstructed print was released, compiled by Thomas Brandon with the help of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. A French version entitled L'Opera de quat'sous was made simultaneously with the German film. According to modern sources, the running time of the original German version was 113 minutes. A shortened version was released in the United States and Great Britain. Among the songs in the movie were "The Ballad of Mackie Messer," "Love Duet," "Barbara," "Is It a Lot I'm Asking?" "The Ballad of the Ship with Fifty Cannons" and "The Song of the Heavy Cannon." Other films based on The Beggar's Opera include: a British film, The Beggar's Opera , made in 1953; a 1964 German version entitled The Threepenny Opera , and television versions made in 1967, 1972 and 1973 all entitled The Beggar's Opera

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   24 May 31   p. 11.
New York Times   29 Mar 31   p. 6.
New York Times   18 May 31   p. 21.
Variety   20 May 31   p. 16.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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