Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Mack the Knife Sliced Up

Cleveland Press October 16, 1964

Watching this motion picture version of "Three Penny Opera" I had the nagging feeling that this should have been and could have been a far better film, that perhaps there was something good that is gone now due to bad editing and annoying dubbing.

Publicity about the movie seems purposely vague about many details. It is obviously not an English language production. I would guess that it is German since the names of most of the principals and the production staff are German. But to further confuse matters the name of a Paris studio appears on the screen.

SAMMY DAVIS portrays the Streetsinger, a character who explains the action to the audience, sings "Mack the Knife," but is otherwise not involved. His scenes have obviously been spliced into the film.

The soundtrack in English is dubbed -- with the exception of Davis' scenes which are all solo appearances. The dubbing is not the best, particularly in the singing. Much can be done to alter dialog to fit the lip movements, but Marc Blitzstein's modernized lyrics have been used and they don't match whatever it is that was being sung.

"Three Penny Opera" is Brecht's musical play (with music by Kurt Weill) about the world of thieves beggars and prostitutes in London's underworld.

Specifically it concerns the feud between Mack the Knife, king of the underworld, and Jonathan Peachum, king of the beggars.

MACK HAS married Peachum's daughter and Peachum is out to dissolve the affair by getting Mack arrested and hung for his crimes.

Instead of leaving town as he should, the newly married Mack keeps his regular Thursday date at the brothel run by Jenny the Pirate. Jenny, an old friend, turns him in.

Colorful and imaginative set and costumes were created by Hein Heckroth, responsible for the set design in "Red Shoes."

Color photography is uneven in quality -- gorgeous at its best, somewhat faded and off-register at other moments.

IN APPEARANCE and manner the players all fit the roles they portray -- Curt Jurgens as the handsome and villainous Mack the Knife, Hildegarde Neff as Jenny, June Ritchie as Polly Peachum -- the girl Mack marries -- and Gert Frobe as Peachum.

It would be interesting to know who speaks and sings on the soundtrack. The vocal work, whoever is responsible, is good.

At one point in the film Polly says to Mack:

"I keep looking at your mouth and I don't know what you are saying."

I had the same feeling.