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I Was a Criminal (1945)

 -  Drama  -  1 January 1945 (USA)
7.4
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Ratings: 7.4/10 from 23 users  
Reviews: 4 user

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(screenplay), (screen version Der Hauptmann von K√∂penick), 2 more credits »
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I Was a Criminal (1945) on IMDb 7.4/10

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Albert Bassermann ...
...
Eric Blore ...
Obermueller, the Mayor
Herman Bing ...
Kilian, City Hall Guard
George Chandler ...
Kallenberg
Luis Alberni ...
Prison Guard
Wallis Clark ...
Elsa Bassermann ...
Mrs. Marie Hoprecht
Claud Allister ...
First Railroad Employee
Bernard Gorcey ...
Second Railroad Employee
Hobart Cavanaugh ...
Rosenkrantz, the Treasurer
Frank Orth ...
Knoll, the Factory Personnel Manager
Sig Arno ...
Krakauer, the Second-Hand Dealer
Russell Hicks ...
Police Commisioner
Sheldon Bennett
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based on novel

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Drama

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Release Date:

1 January 1945 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Captain of Koepenick  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Trivia

Completed as 'Passport to Heaven' in 1941, but unable to find a distributor due to the outbreak of World War II, which made its German settings and characterizations unpalatable to the American public; eventually picked up by Film Classics in 1945, but received few bookings, probably for the same reason; the only review it ever received was in Exhibitor Magazine in July 1946, who also commented on this same problem; eventually picked up for television release by NTA in the 1950's, but only infrequently shown. See more »

Connections

Remake of The Captain from Koepenick (1926) See more »

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The Beginning of the End of the Image of German Military Efficiency
17 June 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

As pointed out on the other comments on this thread, I WAS A CRIMINAL (a.k.a. PASSPORT TO HEAVEN and CAPTAIN FROM KOEPENICK) used to be shown fairly frequently on television. But that was in the 1950s and 1960s. By 2006 it has vanished from the face of television and movie screens. This is a pity, as not only is the story an interesting comic tale (based on truth), but it is important as a record of one of Middle Europe's best actors of the first half of the 20th Century: Albert Basserman.

I suppose that most of us think of two names in movies from Middle Europe (i.e. Germany and the countries surrounding it) from 1920 - 1945 in American/English films: Emil Jannings (in the silent period) and Conrad Veidt. But in the aftermath of Hitler's rise to power, Albert Bassermann joined Veidt in exile. He was Jewish, and found it definitely unhealthy to stay in Nazi Germany (where he had been a leading stage star). Unlike Veidt (but like Jannings) Basserman could not speak English. But there were ways around that.

In 1940 Alfred Hitchcock was casting the role of Van Meer, the "strong man" from Holland, who's kidnapping is at the center of events in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT. Hitchcock was aware that Bassermann was available for the role, and decided to cast him. Problem was he still did not know English. Like John Barrymore in MIDNIGHT, Basserman's lines were written out of sight on a blackboard. But Bassermann's performance was extraordinarily good. He is the spokesman for the common people in the film, talking about people who feed the pigeons. He refuses to give up the secret clause to the Nazi agents in the film, but they proceed to torture him a bit, and he starts giving the clause in the treaty when the police show up to rescue him. Joseph Goebbels was to later reveal he liked the film, especially since the Dutch statesman did cave in. Bassermann, despite the language problem, was nominated for the best supporting actor Oscar in 1940, only to lose. But he was now established as a good character actor.

In the next decade he would appear in many films - and imprint himself on his contemporary actors: Laurence Olivier would pattern his middle - European German accent on Bassermann's through his last films. Olivier even copied some of Bassermann's body language (his little shrugs).

I WAS A CRIMINAL is based on an incident that happened in the Second German Reich of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1906. Bassermann plays Wilhelm Voight, a small time ex-con, who wants to return to his old home (in his German state). At the time the German Empire was made up of German petite kingdoms (Prussia, Bavaria, Wurtemburg, Hanover), and principalities (Hesse Cassel, Baden, etc.) and you required special permission to travel back to your native state. But ex-convicts could not get it (for obvious reasons concerning keeping track of them).

Voight was determined. Sitting across from the municipal offices of the local city, he noticed the citizens blind (really blind) devotion to the military - and blind obedience to military orders. He came up with a plan. He went to the small nearby town of Koepenick, dressed in a military uniform of a Captain (which he rented). Within 20 minutes he had the town dancing to his tune, as he tried to get the document he needed to get home. But though everyone was jumping to attention, running at his first rapid orders, none of them had the authority to give Voight the paper. They did give him a sizable amount of money that had to be taken to Berlin. He willingly took it - a mistake as it turned out. To all questions he said he and he alone would be responsible.

Eventually the theft of the money led to the arrest of Voight, but it was not a triumph of German police or justice. For the story showed the worst side of Wilhelmine Germany - the slavish devotion to the army by the people. It held up the nation and the army to ridicule. Within a few months the town's name was briefly a verb, "to koepenick" (meaning to replace authority figures and fool people), and was the subject of a short story by "Saki" (H.H.Munro) in THE CHRONICLES OF CLOVIS. Voight was tried and sentenced to a brief prison sentence, and then deported to his native state - the government had been embarrassed by the scandal. Although it did not end German militarism (it would take two world wars to do that), it lessened the awe most of Europe felt for Germany's army and bureaucracy.

This film follows the story closely, perhaps making Bassermann's character more comic than the real Voight was. But he gives a first rate performance, ably backed by a cast of good character actors. He never starred in another movie (as far as I know) made in Hollywood, so this one has to stand as his best work. One hopes it resurfaces soon.


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