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THE CAPTAIN FROM KOEPENICK

Germany, 1956 (MIFF 1959, Programme 3)

Director: H. Kautner

A pathetic little man emerges from a Prussian gaol to be denied lodgings, work and, through lack of papers, a passport. Without personal documents, no work — without work, no documents. This frustrating pendulum causes his attempt to steal a passport, resulting in his return to gaol where, instead of repairing shoes, as previously, he devotes his time to studying military manuals. intrigued by the dogma propagated. Upon release he acquires an officer's uniform, and a famous hoax is perpetrated by his impersonation of a captain of the German army. Every door opens at his command. So emerges the tragicomic tale of the Berlin cobbler, Wilhelm Voigt, who arrested the mayor of Koepenick and "requisitioned" the contents of the town treasury, shattering the easygoing life la the town hall with his miniature guard. The climax arrives with his search for the passport office and subsequent events which transform him from a scandalous evil-doer to the hero of the hour.

Adapted from the play by Carl Zuckmayer, this film version liberally uses humorous conversation and situations &ndash: an extremely funny barroom scene; the Mayor without a uniform for the night's manoeuvres. A great deal of its strength lies in the well drawn and acted supporting parts. Satirising German officialdom and militarism, and the buffoonery of the hoax itself, is the concern of the producer: the climax appears a secondary consideration.

For half a century this nonsensical trick has amused the world. The masquerade is short-lived but telling, in its healthy mockery of the mentality to which the uniform is sacred, absolute, and legitimate power.

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