This 1931 film puts one of the musical theatre masterpieces of the 20th century--a slashing attack on greed, violence, and social pretension--in the visual and musical context of its origins. Musically, it omits some of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's numbers and gives to others a softer edge than the hard-hitting music took on in the last half of the century. The 1931 singers, including Weill's wife and definitive interpreter Lotte Lenya, tend to croon numbers that are snarled or barked in the definitive audio recording Lenya made and supervised in the 1950s. A comparison of the 1931 "Pirate Jenny" song, for example, with the recording a quarter-century later shows how performing styles toughened after World War II.
For those interested in performance history, this is a priceless document. For those looking for a dramatic experience, it has less impact than it would have if it were made today, but it still has plenty. This print is considerably sharper than some copies that were available before digital remastering was perfected. --Joe McLellan
The sly melodies of composer Kurt Weill and the daring of dramatist Bertolt Brecht come together on-screen 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, set to Weill's irresistible score, The Threepenny Opera
remains a benchmark of early sound cinema. It is presented here in both its celebrated German and rare French versions.