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Der Untertan (1951)

Diederich Heßling is scared of everything and everyone. But as he grows up, he comes to realize that he has to offer his services to the powers-that-be if he wants to wield power himself. ... See full summary »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
... Diederich Heßling
... Regierungspräsident von Wulckow
Renate Fischer ... Guste Daimchen
Ernst Legal ... Pastor Zillich
Raimund Schelcher ... Dr. Wolfgang Buck
Eduard von Winterstein ... Buck sen.
Friedrich Maurer ... Fabrikant Göpel
... Agnes Göpel
Hannsgeorg Laubenthal ... Mahlmann
Friedrich Gnaß ... Napoleon Fischer
Wolfgang Kühne ... Dr. Mennicke
Fritz Staudte ... Amtsgerichtsrat Kühlemann
Wolfgang Heise ... Leutnant von Brietzen
Axel Triebel ... Major Kunze
... Landgerichtsdirektor
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Storyline

Diederich Heßling is scared of everything and everyone. But as he grows up, he comes to realize that he has to offer his services to the powers-that-be if he wants to wield power himself. His life motto now runs: bow to those at the top and tread on those below. In this way, he always succeeds: as a student in a duel-fighting student fraternity and as a businessman in a paper factory. He cajoles the obese district administrative president Von Wulkow and wins his favor. He slanders his financial rivals and hatches a plot with the social democrats in the town council. On his honeymoon with his rich wife Guste, he finally finds a chance to do his beloved Kaiser a favor. And when a memorial to the Kaiser is unveiled in the town where Diederich lives and works, he delivers the address. He stands behind the lectern in the pouring rain, saluting his Kaiser. The crowd is dispersed. Everything is laid in ruins... Written by Anonymous

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Comedy | Drama

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31 August 1951 (East Germany)  »

Also Known As:

The Underdog  »

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An interesting interpretation of German history
8 July 2011 | by See all my reviews

To fully understand "The Kaiser's Lackey" (of "Man of Straw"), you need to understand who made the film and the purpose of it. This is an East German film and in the view of the German Democratic Republic (the Soviet-controlled East Germans), the enemies of the State are the upper and middle classes--particularly those who control the means of production (this is from Socialism 101 as taught by Professor Marx). So, the film looks at the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II as a struggle between the workers and these ultra-nationalists--in a single representative town and featuring a particularly nasty and soul-less man (Diederich Heßling). The film follows Heßling from his childhood to adulthood--during which he used his position and privilege to exploit or ignore those beneath him, while sucking up to all those above him in the social system.

While not obviously funny when you watch it today, the film is social satire. Naturally, the film was the party line in East Germany and was embraced. However, its reinterpretation of history (which ignored liberal reforms and blamed the Prussian middle-class and militarism on the Nazis) did not sit well in the West--especially since West Germany was being rebuilt and molded by the middle and upper classes. Because of this, the film was at first suppressed and only allowed to be released with a few judicious edits---most of which seem very harmless today but which were fuel for the Cold War at the time. Much of this analysis is NOT because I am some sort of a genius--the special features on the DVD featured a professor from UMass-Amhearst that analyzed and explained the film--something that you should definitely see.

Well acted and thought-provoking. While its history lesson is a bit simplistic, it is well made and quite compelling.


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