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.