The 3 Penny Opera (1931) – reviewed by George

A beautifully shot musical drama about the class struggle, or class war if you prefer, the tale of Mack the Knife and his milieu says worlds today. The movie is in German with English captions, and opens with a stage performance of the song “Mack the Knife”, telling of the exploits of a local robber/killer, Mackie Messer (Rudolph Forster), who happens to be in the audience with a girl.
But even before that, as the credits roll, we hear The Street Singer (Ernst Bush) singing:
“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.”
Mackie dresses well and lives free at the local whorehouse, but while he finds it hard (if not impossible) to be faithful to Polly Peachum (Carola Neher), he does love her and early on proposes. His gang members “borrow” a warehouse and steal all the furnishings, lights, and food, and wedding clothes, including the bride’s gown, to hold the wedding in front of a terrified Vicar (Hermann Themig). But, and it’s a big but, Polly’s dad (Fritz Rasp) is the King of the Beggars, the guy who pulls in street people and dresses them to look piteous, then selects a corner for them and charges them 50% of what they collect. He says,”The rich of this world have no qualms about causing misery, but can’t stand the sight of it.” And he hates Mackie. So he puts a plot in motion to have Mackie arrested and then killed while in jail. The local sheriff, Tiger Brown, or Tiger-Brown, (Reinhold Schunzel) is Mackie’s friend, but the payoff is just too big, so the police are on Mackie’s trail. However, Polly is too smart for the room, so instead of robbing a bank, she uses Mackie’s stash to buy a bank. And she quickly names Mackie the main director. Now he will have to be released: jail is for the poor, not for bankers.
Making the point that there’s not really that much difference between the hearts of the rich and the hearts of the poor, The Street Singer sings, “Regardless of your class, The truth you cannot shirk. Man lives exclusively by dirty work.”
The depiction of London’s underworld is brutal, and the middle and upper classes don’t fare any better (see the expression on the face of the British royal alone in her carriage in the Coronation Day parade), and I’ve read that the movie accurately reflects the attitude of the Germans to the English. But be that as it may, the actual setting of the action is moot, because the film condemns us all, regardless of homeland. Of course it’s hardest on the rich, who get richer at second hand, and on the people like Peachum who take face-to-face advantage of the poor and the disabled.
The original 18th century novel is “The Beggar’s Opera” by Englishman John Gay, the Musical Play is by Bertolt Brecht with Music by Kurt Weill, the Screenplay is by Lania Vajda Balazs,  the Film Director is G.W. Pabst. The beautiful restoration was done on the occasion of the film’s 75th anniversary in 2006.
Note# 1: Tiger-Brown is how the name appears in the opening credits; Tiger Brown is used in the captions. But it is made obvious that Brown is his last name. So you choose.
Note # 2: Lotte Lenya (billed as Lotte Lenja) plays Jenny, one of the prostitutes, who truly loves Mackie, and in her jealousy sells him out to the police. She also sings a great song: “Pirate Jenny”.

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