The Captain From Koepenick

At the Brattle

The Captain From Koepenick is a full color re-make of a mid-30's film about the Prussian military at the turn of the century. The story involves an ex-convict, who, becoming piqued with the government, buys an old infantry uniform, commandeers a dozen healthy, helmeted Berlin youths, marches them to the neighboring town of Koepenick, and ends up arresting the mayor and sending him to jail. The film, as it might appear, is primarily a comedy, and the last fifteen minutes are delightful in a Teutonic, beer and wursty manner.

A great part of The Captain From Koepenick, however, is not intended to be funny; there are many chunks of pathos, all tending toward some half-hearted comments about the importance of the man and the unimportance of the uniform--all of which, in view of the potent force of the humor, are unnecessary.

Thus, the pathos is neither expected nor effective, and is, in fact, somewhat grotesque. This is not the fault of Heinz Ruhmann, who plays the exconvict, Voight--interpreting all of his many moods, from puckish drollery to soggy weltschmerz, with maximum effect. The fault rather lies in the nature of the film.

Director Helmut Kautner has taken Karl Zuchmayer's biting leftist script and toned it down, both in political implication and in social description. As the movie proceeds one can see the effect which could have resulted from the blending of abject misery with bitter humor. There are flashes of what must have been really fine pathos on older, flickering, brownish black-and-white film. Blind street singers grind out a Weill-ish ballad, one playing a hand organ, the other tapping a drum with sticks taped to his elbows. A dying consumptive girl cries out in fear of the whiteness of the window in the early twilight. But, even though the color is muted in these scenes, it protrudes everywhere; and the directing seems to feel obligated to follow the color--to feel obligated to keep everything clean and bright, to remain aloof, to treat the pathos as though it were an awkward intrusion which must be made the best of.

Needless to say, the pathos is, in this production, an awkward intrusion. Contrasting strangely with the thick boffola of the comic scenes, it produces a sense of dislocation, a sort of emotional lacuna. Not that there is anything wrong with emotional lacunae: such an effect was doubtless what the producers of the original film were after. But the dislocation in the present version acts to no purpose and fails to convey the desired jarring effect.

Outside of the latter rather sticky item, The Captain From Koepenick is highly entertaining, and in a few of the comic scenes, positively brilliant. Helmut Kautner's comic direction is perceptive and lightning fast. His sausage-filled officials are overdone perfectly, and his other minor characters dodge in and out of the story with potent effect. And of course, throughout, there is Heinz Ruhmann's performance, which alone makes The Captain From Koepenick eminently worth seeing.