Sunday, January 31, 2010
The Kaiser's Lackey
The Kaiser's Lackey (Der Untertan) is a 1951 DEFA film of Wolfgang Staudte's. It is based on a novel by Heinrich Mann (Thomas' brother, who also wrote The Blue Angel). In some ways, the story resembles a satiric version of Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, if the family novel had been reduced to the story of one of the sons. Diederlich Hessling (played beautifully by Werner Peters) is the only son of a paper manufacturer in the late nineteenth century. The story follows Hessling through his youth, his time in college, his brief sojourn in the military (he's let go after a few weeks for his flat feet). Eventually, after Hessling goes back home and takes up the reins of the factory, he turns in a fellow townsman for insulting the Kaiser. When Hessling denounces the man during the court case, he suddenly becomes popular with his fellow citizens. The height of Hessling's life (the end of the movie, though not the book) is his convincing of the town council to erect a statue of the Kaiser on horseback. The unveiling ceremony is hit by a tornado, but by God, the statue survives!
I think that the humor lampooning the bourgeoisie is broader than it may have been otherwise given the year, and the Communist hold on East Berlin. It is still funny.