“Threepenny opera” – (112 minutes, Germany 1931, NR)
Thank God for egotists..?
“Die 3 Groschen Oper”… Of late, we have been going through several films of significance, centering around the evil men are capable of. I am thinking mainly of “the killer inside me” and “Wolf Creek”, but there’s more: “Psycho”, “M” and much more.
If you are familiar with “threepenny opera” you might think the comparison to be strange, but it really isn’t.
“Threepenny opera” began as a stage play written by Bertolt Brecht, a playwright of vision and talent who was also very difficult to work with, focusing as he did on differences rather than goals. Basically an egotistic prick with talent, Brecht’s history is fascinating in itself but is not the focus of this piece.
One of the protagonists (antagonists?) of “threepenny opera” is Macheath “Mackie” Messer, a psychopathic killer, in modern terms. You are probably familiar with the song “Mack the knife”, which has seen several interpretations over the years, by Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra among others.
But the original version is not quite so… watered down, and we actually owe its existence to Harald Paulsen, another egotistic you-know-what who was cast as Macheath before Rudolf Forster replaced him, and most likely for the better.
The fact remains, however, that if not for Paulsen’s demands to have a song introducing his character, we would not have this classic today.
Here is the original song:
This is a close version of the original lyrics but not quite as they are sung in the film:
“Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear
And he shows them pearly white.
Just a jack knife has Macheath, dear
And he keeps it out of sight.
When the shark bites with his teeth, dear
Scarlet billows start to spread.
Fancy gloves, though, wears Macheath, dear
So there’s not a trace of red.
On the side-walk Sunday morning
Lies a body oozing life;
Someone’s sneaking ’round the corner.
Is that someone Mack the Knife?
From a tugboat by the river
A cement bag’s dropping down;
The cement’s just for the weight, dear.
Bet you Mackie’s back in town.
Louie Miller disappeared, dear
After drawing out his cash;
And Macheath spends like a sailor.
Did our boy do something rash?
Sukey Tawdry, Jenny Diver,
Polly Peachum, Lucy Brown
Oh, the line forms on the right, dear
Now that Mackie’s back in town.”
Murderer, arsonist, rapist and more. A character most definitely related to the antagonists I referred to in the aforementioned movies.
“Threepenny opera” the movie is very much different from the play, but again, this isn’t the point. The point is that this movie, beautifully restored, written and acted is not simply worth watching, it is worth owning.
It is also likely to require several viewings, as there is much not only to simply enjoy but think about as well.
Here’s another truly great song, “Jenny the pirate” sung by Lotte Lenya:
Lyrical, humorous and sinister, “Threepenny opera” is one of these quintessential midnight movies. Someday perhaps, there will be a narcocorrido which will approach the tale of Mack the knife, Peachum the king of beggars and Jenny the pirate, but until then, we can marvel at this wonderful work of art.
“Threepenny opera” gets five jellybeans.