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The Beggar's Opera (1953)

When the composer of an opera about a swashbuckling, wenching highwayman meets his hero's real-life counterpart, he's disappointed with his lack of dash.


Peter Brook


John Gay (libretto), Denis Cannan | 1 more credit »

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Laurence Olivier ... Captain MacHeath
Hugh Griffith ... The Beggar
George Rose ... 1st Turnkey
Stuart Burge Stuart Burge ... 1st Prisoner
Cyril Conway Cyril Conway ... 2nd Prisoner
Gerald Lawson Gerald Lawson ... 3rd Prisoner
Dorothy Tutin ... Polly Peachum
George Devine George Devine ... Peachum
Mary Clare ... Mrs. Peachum
Edward Pryor Edward Pryor ... Filch
Athene Seyler ... Mrs. Trapes
Stanley Holloway ... Mr. Lockit
Daphne Anderson ... Lucy Lockit
Eric Pohlmann ... Inn Keeper
Yvonne Furneaux ... Jenny Diver


Authentic rendering of John Gay's eighteenth century musical, filmed in Technicolor, about Captain MacHeath, a highwayman, and his love for too many beautiful women. Betrayed by Jenny and Sukey, two of his bygone lovers, and temporarily freed by two others, MacHeath is arrested and condemned to death. While waiting to be hanged, the Captain is entertained by a musical beggar, who has written an opera of which the highwayman is the hero. Written by Mike Rogers <MICHAELPEM@aol.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Crime | History | Musical


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Release Date:

5 October 1953 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Die Bettleroper See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Recording)


Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The genesis of this 1728 opera came from Jonathan Swift, who wrote to Alexander Pope in 1716 asking "what think you, of a Newgate pastoral among the thieves and whores there?" John Gay, who was a friend of both, took up the idea. See more »


Captain MacHeath: Dolly Trull!
Dolly Trull: Dear Captain, I never thought you'd have the imudence to remember me.
Captain MacHeath: Kiss me, you slut!
[They kiss]
Captain MacHeath: Are you as amorous as ever? I bid you're always so taken up with stealing hearts you don't allow yourself time to steal anything else.
See more »


Version of Driestuiversopera (1969) See more »


In The Days Of My Youth
Sung by Dolly Trapes
See more »

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User Reviews

Great Musical, Even If It Is 280 Years Old
27 September 2004 | by Terrell-4See all my reviews

When this movie opened it scarcely caused a ripple in Britain and even less so in the U.S. I don't know why. It's a telling of John Gay's great work written in 1728, and the play was a blockbuster 280 years ago. It's supposed to be the first English "opera" that told a story through song and which was aimed to entertain the people. Gay took melodies wherever he found them, wrote lyrics to them to advance the storyline, and had a hit. And in another version, it still is. The Threepenny Opera by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht (with Blitzstein's redone lyrics) is a fixture in theaters, and Mack the Knife is still a popular song.

Lawrence Olivier plays Macheath, a rollicking highwayman with "wives" all over London. He has two in particular, Polly Peachum, the daughter of his fence, and Lucy Lockit, the daughter of his jailer. The story of Macheath's adventures, captures and escapes are all told in song. There are horse riding songs, love songs, gambling songs, longing songs, lustful songs. The story starts in a London prison where Macheath awaits hanging. A beggar just tossed into the prison has written an opera about Macheath. He starts to tell it to the inmates and the movie takes off.

The songs are great fun and the style of the movie is very much the look of 18th century London. You can feel the fleas in the wigs, the lice in the clothes, the sheen of greasy lips, the stink of unwashed bodies.

And there are some sharp lines. "A miser might as well be satisfied with one guinea as I with one wife." "Love is a misfortune that can happen even to an indiscreet girl." "I can tell by your kiss that your gin is excellent." And when pointing out that consummation needn't wait for marriage, "Friends should not insist on ceremony."

Olivier does a masterful job, handling his own stunts, horse work and, most bravely, his own singing. He's good. On the day of Macheath's hanging, he's carted out to the gallows, sitting jauntily on his casket. While a grim-faced preacher is screaming at him to repent, he's sweeping up wenches to kiss, downing tankards of ale held up to him, and making a little girl laugh while bouncing her on his knee. Olivier plays it with great verve.

And while there's not exactly a reprieve, there is a joyous escape.

If you like Olivier, if you like things British, if you like quirky films that will probably be forgotten, this is worth seeing.

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