Nobel Prize winner Gerhard Hauptmann's play 'Before Sunset' of 1932 has been committed to celluloid twice and its formidable leading character Matthias Clausen played by the equally formidable Emil Jannings and Hans Albers. Ironically Albers also followed in Janning's footsteps when playing the hotel doorman in the remake of 'The Last Laugh'.
One wonders what the playwright made of Thea von Harbou's 'free' adaptation of 1937 directed by Veit Harlan with Jannings as both star and 'artistic supervisor'. It is a very well-made film with a mesmerising Jannings heading a strong cast but as one would expect it has a distinctly National Socialist slant in so far as Clausen has become a German industrialist in Krupp mode whose final speech;"He who is a born leader needs no other teacher but his own genuis" leaves us in no doubt to whom he is referring. I would imagine that Hauptmann probably took the whole thing in his stride as he was notoriously 'uncritical' of the Nazi regime.
Gottfried Reinhardt's film of 1956 is a far more faithful adaptation in which Albers giving a powerhouse performance as Clausen.
He is a widower who falls in love with a much younger woman played by Annemarie Dueringer. His family feels threatened and having failed to buy her off conspire to have Clausen certified as mentally incompetent..
The whole cast is uniformly admirable and there is a haunting score by Wolfgang Eisbrenner for strings only. A previous reviewer has referred to this as 'filmed theatre' but surely that is the proper way to do it and anyway, the director has also taken the play out of the proscenium arch with scenes on the ski slopes and at the railway station.
A great play has become a great film and although the play's tragic ending has been changed to one that is more 'optimistic' it is no less dramatic.
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