The Threepenny Opera (1931 film)

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The Threepenny Opera
Directed by G. W. Pabst
Produced by Seymour Nebenzal
Written by Béla Balázs
Leo Lania
Ladislaus Vajda
Starring Rudolf Forster
Margo Lion
Carola Neher
Lotte Lenya
Reinhold Schünzel
Music by Kurt Weill
Cinematography Fritz Arno Wagner
Edited by Hans Oser (German version), Henri Rust (French version)
Distributed by Nero-Film
Tobis Filmkunst
Warner Bros. Berlin
Release dates
  • 19 February 1931 (1931-02-19) (Germany)
  • 17 May 1931 (1931-05-17) (U.S.)
Running time
113 minutes (German version) / 107 minutes (French version)
Country Germany
Language German- and French-language versions

The Threepenny Opera (German: Die 3-Groschen-Oper) is a 1931 German musical film directed by G. W. Pabst. It was produced by Seymour Nebenzal's Nero-Film for Tonbild-Syndikat AG (Tobis), Berlin and Warner Bros. Pictures GmbH, Berlin. The film is loosely based on the 1928 musical theatre success The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. As was usual in the early sound film era, Pabst also directed a French language version of the film, L'Opéra de quat'sous, with some variation of plot details (the French title literally translates as "the four penny opera"). A planned English version was not made. The two existing versions were released by The Criterion Collection on home video. English version The Threepenny Opera from the Warner Archive Collection has not been announced on DVD.

The Threepenny Opera differs in significant respects from the play, and the internal timeline is somewhat vague. The whole of society is presented as corrupt in one form or another. Only some of the songs from the play are used, in a different order.


Film director Georg Wilhelm Pabst (right) and actor Albert Préjean (as Mackie Messer) during filming the film L'Opéra de quat'sous (The Threepenny Opera) in 1931.

Macheath aka "Mack the Knife" ("Mackie Messer" in German) is presented as an anti-hero and is in league with Tiger Brown, Chief of Police, who is in charge of the coronation of an unspecified queen.

Macheath marries Polly Peachum, daughter of Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum, but still visits the brothel on Turnmill Street. Peachum is displeased at his daughter's marriage, and threatens Brown with disruption of the coronation - arranging for a protest march of beggars and others. Macheath is arrested, after a rooftop escape from the brothel where he had gone to visit Jenny, his former lover during a raid. Macheath is imprisoned and sentenced to death.

Polly, meanwhile, buys a bank, and runs it with Macheath's henchmen, making him a bank director, and she then arranges surety for Macheath to leave prison. This causes a change of heart by her parents - her father tries to stop the protest march but fails.

Jenny visits the prison, and aids Macheath's escape: he makes his way to the bank, where he discovers his new status. Brown, whose police career is ruined by the demonstration, and Peachum, also come to the bank and agree to link up.


German-language version
French-language version

External links[edit]