Prisoner of Paradise

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Prisoner of Paradise
Prisoner of Paradise.jpg
Film poster
Directed byMalcolm Clarke
Stuart Sender
Distributed byMenemsha Entertainment
Release date
  • December 11, 2002 (2002-12-11) (U.S.)
  • March 7, 2003 (2003-03-07) (Canada)
Running time
96 minutes
United States
United Kingdom

Prisoner of Paradise is a 2002 documentary film directed by Malcolm Clarke and Stuart Sender, and produced as a British-Canadian-American collaboration. The film tells the true story of Kurt Gerron, a German-Jewish cabaret and film actor in the 1920s and 1930s who was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia during World War II. There he was ordered to write and direct a Nazi propaganda film.[1] In addition to gaining positive reviews, the film was nominated for "Best Feature Documentary" in the 2003 Academy Awards. Clarke won the Directors Guild of Canada Award; he and Sender were together nominated for the 2003 Directors Guild of America Award.


The documentary is a chronicle of the life and career of Kurt Gerron. During the 1920s and early 1930s, Gerron was a well-known cabaret and film actor in Berlin. He sang the song "Mack the Knife" in the initial production of Brecht's The Threepenny Opera and appeared in a supporting role in Josef von Sternberg's classic German sound film The Blue Angel, co-starring Marlene Dietrich. When the Nazis came to power, Gerron remained in Germany, in spite of serious warnings by von Sternberg and Peter Lorre that he should leave the country.

Later, Gerron moved to Paris and Amsterdam in order to continue his entertainment career. He was captured by the Nazis in 1943 and sent with other Jews to the Theresienstadt concentration camp located near Prague. In 1944, the Nazis promoted this as a model settlement where the Jews were being well-treated and allowed a visit from the International Red Cross, to placate the Danish government. That year the Nazis recruited Gerron to write and direct a 23-minute propaganda film, The Führer Gives a City to the Jews. It presented the concentration camp as a "wonderful" place. Despite his cooperation, Gerron and his wife were subsequently included in the liquidation of the ghetto and deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, where they were both murdered.

Production and release[edit]

Prisoner of Paradise was produced for the Cineplex Odeon Films presentation in Canada; the film is a Montral production, in association with BBC, PBS, SODEC, and the Canadian cable television specialty channel History Television.[1] The script was written by Malcolm Clarke and the film was narrated by Ian Holm. The documentary was released theatrically on December 12, 2003. A DVD version was released on April 12, 2005.[1]


Critical reaction[edit]

The documentary received generally positive reviews by the press. Metacritic gave Prisoner of Paradise a score of 70 out of 100.[2] Variety magazine called the film "an important and smoothly mounted meditation on moral choices within the entertainment biz."[1]

Charlotte Observer 's reviewer Lawrence Toppman praised the film, stating that "its uniqueness lies in its juxtaposition of happy faces and unhappy realities, of fleeting expressions of art and culture undone by daily brutality."[3] The press widely agreed that the documentary exploited a new and unexpected aspect of the Nazi war against the Jews.[4][5] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B, and added that the film "reveal[ed] a queasy corner of the Nazi mind that tried to imagine a concentration camp as it fantasized the inmates might have."[5] According to The Hollywood Reporter, the distinction between Prisoner of Paradise and previous films of the same topic is that "it tells a morality tale of a man whose hubris partially led to his downfall and whose willingness to work for his Nazi overseers resulted in one of the most notorious propaganda films of the era."[6]

Along with the good reviews, Prisoner of Paradise was mildly criticized for its analysis of why Gerron agreed to direct the Nazi propaganda film of the camp. The New York Times commented that the film "seems to just drift to a close rather than pronounce an end. This can be a result of wrestling with a daunting subject and not being up to its demands."[7]

Nominations and awards[edit]

The film received a nomination for Best Feature Documentary at the 75th Academy Awards.[8] Director Malcolm Clarke won the Directors Guild of Canada Award; he and Stuart Sender were also nominated for the 2003 Directors Guild of America Award.[1][9]


  1. ^ a b c d e Review, Variety magazine
  2. ^ Reviews from Metacritic
  3. ^ Lawrence Toppman, "An improbable propagandist for Hitler"[permanent dead link], Charlotte Observer
  4. ^ MOVIE REVIEW 'Prisoner of Paradise' from Los Angeles Times
  5. ^ a b "'Prisoner of Paradise' review", Entertainment Weekly
  6. ^ "Prisoner of Paradise", The Hollywood Reporter
  7. ^ "FILM REVIEW; Putting a Smiley Face on a Nazi Camp", New York Times
  8. ^ "NY Times: Prisoner of Paradise". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-11-23.
  9. ^ Welcome to the Directors Guild of America

External links[edit]