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.

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 the filming of L'Opéra de quat'sous (The Threepenny Opera) in 1931.

Macheath aka "Mack the Knife" ("Mackie Messer" in German) is presented as an antihero and is in league with Tiger Brown, Chief of Police, who is about to oversee 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 the disruption of the coronation by a protest march of beggars and others. The police raid the brothel where Macheath has gone to visit his former lover Jenny, and after a rooftop escape, he is arrested, imprisoned, and sentenced to death.

Meanwhile, Polly buys a bank and runs it with Macheath's henchmen, making him a bank director, and arranges surety for Macheath to leave prison. This causes a change of heart in 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. Peachum and Brown, whose police career is ruined by the demonstration, also come to the bank and agree to join forces.


German-language version
French-language version

External links[edit]