The latest in the Brattle's series of Bogart thrillers (Bogie plays the unseen, unheard Father-Confessor) is a somewhat low-budget cinema version of Thomas Mann's last novel. In The Confessions of Felix Krull, Mann presented a highly amusing account of one aspect of the Teutonic mind. His Felix Krull is a magnificently amoral charcater; his portrayal of Felix's life is exciting enough to stimulate readers to enter the Harvard confidence game.
To the extent that Felix Krull is faithful to the novel, it is a success. However, in a few instances Director Kurt Hoffman and Screenwriter Robert Thoeren apparently thought they could improve on Mann's material. They were wrong. Their main mistake is in changing Felix Krull from a calculating, unprincipled opportunist to a sort of Horatio Alger who undeservedly benefits from immoral circumstances.
This change of character is further intensified by the ineffectual, boyish performance of Horst Buchholz, who plays the title role. Instead of the dashing Felix, Buchholz is an embarrassed bush leaguer playing in the big-time. Except for the highly humorous draft-dodging scene, Buchholz does not command the situation. This is indeed unfortunate, because although the other acting is quite sufficient, the role of Felix completely dominates the story.
The principal diversion from the plot of Mann's novel occurs in the movie's unsatisfactory conclusion. Mann intended to write another novel about the further adventures of Krull, but he did give his novel an hilarious and epiphanal conclusion with Felix's seduction of the mother of one of his lady friends. The film does include this appealing scene, but induces too much complexity into the ending, as well as an implausible love into the hero.
Further hindrances are the lighting and photography, both of which give the movie such a limited visual appeal that it seems highly unreal. Also the use of subtitles upon an often white background sometimes makes it difficult to follow the dialogue.
There are major difficulties in this movie, but most of them will bother only those having read the book. The movie is worth seeing, however, if only because of the humor inherent in its material.
Such humor is not inherent in the cartoon preceeding the main show and arrival ten minutes late is advisable. If the Brattle insists on showing only '"shuddering losers" as short subjects, it might better fill the time unused by the feature with a community sing. Follow the bouncing ball.