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Monday, July 26, 2010

DER UNTERTAN / THE KAISER’S LACKEY [aka MAN OF STRAW] (1951)

Heinrich Mann’s satirical novel from 1914 about German nationalism as seen in the politics & business practices of a small city in the 1890s is appalling, prescient & hilarious, something of a Teutonic BABBITT. Wolfgang Staudte, who made films in East & West Germany, made this for DEFA in the East, where its anti-bourgeois attitudes were no doubt appreciated, and he brought a lot of cinematic style to his task (though the effort often shows). Working from a clever script from his brother, Staudte deftly charts a businessman’s Bildungsroman as he blunders his way toward the German upper-middle-class, briefly touching on his difficult childhood & schooldays, the girl he wronged on the way up, a spell in the peacetime military (and the scar to prove it), and his inevitable homecoming where he reorganizes the family business for profit & social standing on the backs of his oppressed workers. Staudte overplays his themes with a final flourish of WWII devastation, but most of the film is dead-on. The FRF-DVD looks over-processed, but it’s watchable.

DOUBLE-BILL: Try this alongside THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP/’43 or THE WHITE RIBBON/’09 for a mini-tour of the German soul.

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