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Mack the Knife (1989)

5.7
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Ratings: 5.7/10 from 251 users  
Reviews: 7 user | 3 critic

In the 19th century London, a young girl falls for a famous womanizing criminal and they decide to get married. Her family strongly disapproves so her father "the king of thieves" gets the gangster arrested.

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Title: Mack the Knife (1989)

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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Julia Migenes ...
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Rachel Robertson ...
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Coaxer
Louise Plowright ...
Elizabeth Seal ...
Chrissie Kendall ...
Miranda Garrison ...
Esmeralda
Mark Northover ...
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Storyline

In the 19th century London, a young girl falls for a famous womanizing criminal and they decide to get married. Her family strongly disapproves so her father "the king of thieves" gets the gangster arrested.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Smooth. Sharp. Deadly. See more »


Certificate:

PG-13 | See all certifications »
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Details

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Language:

Release Date:

2 February 1990 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Mackie Majcher  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office

Budget:

$9,000,000 (estimated)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs

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Did You Know?

Trivia

Rachel Robertson receives an "introducing" credit. See more »

Quotes

MacHeath: John is a goner and Jimmy is dead,
Tiger Brown: And George went crazy with the shooting.
MacHeath: But bloody is blood and red is bloody red,
Tiger Brown: And the Army goes on and on recruiting!
See more »

Connections

Version of Three Penny Opera (1963) See more »

Soundtracks

Pirate Jenny
Written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill with English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein
Performed by Julia Migenes
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Out of 10 stars, it deserves 12.
17 April 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

In 1728 John Gay took a suggestion from Jonathan Swift (1716) and wrote a revolutionary opera, "The Beggar's Opera". This was a revolutionary work because in the first quarter of the 18th Century the rage was Italian opera – a specialty of Handel, among others. Italian opera was a highly formalized affair involving the doings of gods, demigods, heroes, kings, and other folk of elevated but generally useless status. Gay's work, in contrast, was about beggars, thieves, procurers, whores, gaolers, and other folk of low status – persons whose appearance on the stage was considered scandalous. The resultant furore of hilarity tolled the death knell for Italian opera. Handel turned to writing oratorios – upon which is based his primary claim to fame. Opera, meanwhile, became more naturalistic. Gay's musical lark had changed the course of the development of music.

Exactly 200 years later, in 1928, Kurt Weill (assisted by his brilliant librettist Berthold Brecht) updated the Beggar's Opera as "Die Dreigroschenoper", "The Threepenny Opera" (although it might more properly be "The Thruppence Opera") – a work equally as revolutionary. In a piece for low characters, with (for the time) shocking dialogue and lyrics, employing a cabaret orchestra – Weill created something that was no less high art than the masterworks of Richard Strauss. It may be argued that Weill wrote greater works for the stage than this, "Lady in the Dark", or even that mountain of monumental bloat "Magahonny", but such arguments fail to obscure the fact that "Dreigroschenoper" is THE Weill masterwork. (And yes, I'm familiar with the fact that claims have been made that Brecht's lyrics weren't necessarily his own.) Weill's great musical achievement has been committed to film 3 times: in 1931 ("The Threepenny Opera"), 1962 ("Die 3groschenoper"), and 1990 ("Mack the Knife"). Of these, despite its defects, by far the best is the last. "Mack" creates a vision entirely faithful to Brecht's vision of the seamy underside of capitalism – which, by the way, was much the same as William Hogarth's, whose engravings wonderfully inspired the sets and costumes. (Yes, Hogarth died in 1764 and the opera is presumably set in 1837, but London hadn't changed overmuch in the interim since the early Hanoverians were every bit as corrupt as the late Stuarts.) Brecht would, of course, have a field day today, when corporate capitalism is entirely seamy, no matter what side you look at. This great film has, alas, not found a home on DVD as yet. The VHS, showing only the feckless pan-and-scan format, is out of print and hard to find.

One of the glories of "Mack" is its cast. This is headed by Raul Julia and Richard Harris. Everyone connected with the production shows an intelligent understanding of capitalism and its love of corruption and war – for Brecht's vision shows us that Marxism (despite its defects of logic and focus) sees the economic engine of the West for what it is: greedy, oppressive, hypocritical, immoral, deceitful, and homicidal. In our age, Peachum would be the head of a multinational corporation and/or in the Senate, and Tiger Brown would be in charge of Homeland "Security".

When the Dreigroschenoper was to be performed in English in the States during the first half of the last century, Berthold Brecht's biting lyrics were idiomatically translated by the talented (but now little-known) composer, Marc Blitzstein. To the extent that these lyrics appear in the film, Blitzstein's version has been somewhat diluted.

If "Mack the Knife" has a defect – and it does – it's the omission of so much of Weil's original music. Some of the opera's number are omitted entirely, and all of the rest are abbreviated to one extent or another.

Some of the music of omitted songs does appear in snippets in the unsung score. The orchestral score doesn't stray too far from Weil's cabaret orchestra arrangement, although the instrumental palette is somewhat broader. There are so many CD versions of the opera (including one featuring the immortal Lotte Lenya), both in German and English, that you would have no trouble hearing – if not the whole score, at least the majority of it. (The Lotte Lenya version is, I believe, complete.) The opera is set about the time of "the Queen's coronation" -- presumably Victoria, putting it in 1837. The outstanding members of the cast may be noted: the "Street Singer" is played cunningly by Roger Daltry. He's not a character per se, but instead participates in the musical numbers and does a bit of "Everyman" comment. Mr. Peachum, London's criminal boss … chiefly a fence and director of a troupe of beggars … is played brilliantly by the great Richard Harris. The fishwife-like Mrs. Peachum is marvelously portrayed by the wonderful Julie Walters. MacHeath is the inimitable Raul Julia, and it's hard to tell whether he or Harris portrays his character more charismatically. The Chief of Police, Tiger Woods is a very nice turn by the greatly talented Bill Nighy). Jenny Diver, MacHeath's lover in years past and now the madame of her own house, is played with tremendous worldliness and world-weariness by Julia Migenes. She disappeared from film shortly after this. She's a Scientologist, but nobody's perfect. Incidentally, this Jenny isn't "Pirate Jenny" of the original Threepenny, but sings her ballad. There is almost always a "Jenny" in a Weil/Brecht production.

What a fabulous performance this is! Weil's anti-establishment opera would be better with its music intact. Maybe so, but it's wonderfully well-served here by wonderful staging, enthusiastic acting, and vigorous realization of the abbreviated score. I give this one 12 stars out of 10. If you can find a copy of this film, buy it – short of a DVD release, you will not see its like again.


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