Mack the Knife (1990)

PG-13 | 122 mins | Musical, Comedy-drama | 2 February 1990

Director:

Menahem Golan

Writer:

Menahem Golan

Producer:

Stanley Chase

Cinematographer:

Elemer Ragalyi

Production Designer:

Tivadar Bertalan

Production Company:

21st Century Film Corporation
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HISTORY

Mack the Knife was an updated version of Bertold Brecht and Kurt Weill’s 1927 German musical play, Die Dreigroschenoper, which was adapted for the German cinema in 1931. The play was based on British playwright John Gay’s 1728 The Beggar’s Opera. In the U.S., Marc Blitzstein wrote an English translation called The Threepenny Opera, which ran successfully as an off-Broadway play, beginning in 1954. Five years later, Blitzstein’s version of the opening song, “The Ballad Of Mack The Knife,” shortened to “Mack The Knife,” became a number-one recording for singer Bobby Darin. An American film version was planned as early as 1980, the 19 Jun 1980 DV reported, when producer Stanley Chase acquired film rights and established a budget of $15 million. At that time, Al Pacino was attached to portray “Mack the Knife,” according to the 4 Aug 1981 HR, but the project did not come to fruition until executive producer-director Menachem Golan joined forces with Chase seven years later. Their 1990 Mack the Knife became the first American film version and starred Raul Julia, a 1977 Tony Award nominee for best actor in a musical for his portrayal of the lead character in a revival of The Threepenny Opera at Lincoln Center in New York City.
       The 12 Aug 1988 HR announced that Anthony Hopkins would star as “J. J. Peachum” in the upcoming film version of The Threepenny Opera. However, Hopkins pulled out a couple weeks later, the 7 Sep 1988 DV noted. The 24 May 1988 issue of USA Today ... More Less

Mack the Knife was an updated version of Bertold Brecht and Kurt Weill’s 1927 German musical play, Die Dreigroschenoper, which was adapted for the German cinema in 1931. The play was based on British playwright John Gay’s 1728 The Beggar’s Opera. In the U.S., Marc Blitzstein wrote an English translation called The Threepenny Opera, which ran successfully as an off-Broadway play, beginning in 1954. Five years later, Blitzstein’s version of the opening song, “The Ballad Of Mack The Knife,” shortened to “Mack The Knife,” became a number-one recording for singer Bobby Darin. An American film version was planned as early as 1980, the 19 Jun 1980 DV reported, when producer Stanley Chase acquired film rights and established a budget of $15 million. At that time, Al Pacino was attached to portray “Mack the Knife,” according to the 4 Aug 1981 HR, but the project did not come to fruition until executive producer-director Menachem Golan joined forces with Chase seven years later. Their 1990 Mack the Knife became the first American film version and starred Raul Julia, a 1977 Tony Award nominee for best actor in a musical for his portrayal of the lead character in a revival of The Threepenny Opera at Lincoln Center in New York City.
       The 12 Aug 1988 HR announced that Anthony Hopkins would star as “J. J. Peachum” in the upcoming film version of The Threepenny Opera. However, Hopkins pulled out a couple weeks later, the 7 Sep 1988 DV noted. The 24 May 1988 issue of USA Today reported that executive producer-director Menahem Golan wanted singer Cyndi Lauper to play “Polly Peachum,” but she was not part of the production.
       The 28 Jun 1988 DV and 30 Aug 1988 HR reported that Golan originally planned to film The Threepenny Opera at Elstree Studios near London, England, and then at a studio in Israel, but eventually settled on a studio outside Budapest, Hungary, where the projected $25 million budget was reduced to $20 million, Golan told the 15 Jan 1989 NYT. Principal photography was set to begin 26 Sep 1988, the 21 Sep 1988 Var noted. Eleven weeks later, filming wrapped in mid-Dec, according to the 23 Dec 1988 HR. According to the 2 Feb 1989 LAHExam, Cannon Films changed the title from The Threepenny Opera, which had been spelled alternately as The Three Penny Opera, to Mack the Knife.
       The 7 Jun 1989 DV detailed Menachem Golan’s battle for writer’s credit with the Writers Guild of America (WGA). Golan claimed he based his script “closely” on the original Brecht-Weill text of Die Dreigroschenoper, instead of relying on screenwriter Alan Howard’s update of Marc Blitzstein’s 1954 English translation. The WGA originally awarded Howard credit for the Mack the Knife script, but Golan appealed and won. Golan’s argument was that Howard, who had originally written the script for producer Stanley Chase’s 1979-1982 aborted effort to film The Threepenny Opera, was prevented from using Marc Blitzstein’s lyrics, whereas Golan obtained the rights and incorporated Blitzstein’s work in the final film, along with his own updates and added material from music director Dov Seltzer.
       Mack the Knife premiered on 15 Oct 1989 as “the kickoff” for the Chicago International Film Festival, according to that day’s editon of the Chicago Tribune. The film opened on 2 Feb 1990 to “blistering reviews” and “disappointing” box-office returns, which “plummeted” the second week, the 6 Feb 1990, 7 Feb 1990, and 13 Feb 1990 editions of DV reported.
       Along with three dozen other films, Mack the Knife was auctioned off by 21st Century Film Corporation’s creditor, Credit Lyonnais Bank Nederland, N.V., when the corporation declared bankruptcy, according to a notice of sale in the 27 Jun 1995 HR.
       End credits give the following information: “Filmed at Hungarofilm/Mafilm Studios, Hungary.” More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
LOCATION
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Chicago Tribune
15 Oct 1989
p. 12.
Daily Variety
28 Jun 1988
p. 8.
Daily Variety
23 Aug 1988
p. 2.
Daily Variety
7 Sep 1988
p. 3.
Daily Variety
24 May 1989
p. 2.
Daily Variety
7 Jun 1989
p. 2, 20.
Daily Variety
19 Jun 1980
p. 1, 100.
Daily Variety
13 Oct 1989
p, 2, 23.
Daily Variety
6 Feb 1990
p. 30.
Daily Variety
7 Feb 1990
p. 3.
Daily Variety
13 Feb 1990
p. 20.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Aug 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Aug 1988.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Aug 1988.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Dec 1988.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Dec 1988.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Oct 1989
p. 4, 16.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jun 1995.
---
LAHExam
2 Sep 1988.
---
LAHExam
2 Feb 1989.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Feb 1990
Calendar, p. 6, 61.
New York Times
15 Jan 1989
Section A, p. 15.
New York Times
2 Feb 1990
p. 11.
New York Times
9 Feb 1990
p. 9.
Newsday
2 Jan 1989
p. 7.
USA Today
24 May 1988
Section D, p. 2.
Variety
21 Sep 1988
p. 6.
Variety
18 Oct 1989
p. 30.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
21st Century Presents
a Golan-Globus Production
a Menaham Golan Film
A 21st Century™ Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITER
Wrt for the screen by, Wrt for the scr by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d cam
Focus puller
Still photog
Gaffer
Chief grip
Film prints processed by
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Post prod supv
1st asst ed
1st asst ed
1st asst ed
1st asst ed
1st asst ed
2d asst ed
2d asst ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dresser
Prop master
Prop buyer
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst cost des
Ward supv
Wigs by
MUSIC
Mus dir and cond
Lyrics wrt and adpt
Lyrics wrt and adpt
Lyrics wrt and adpt
From the orig lyrics by
Asst mus dir, London
Asst mus dir, Los Angeles
Mus mixing
Mus ed
2d mus ed
Rec eng
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Boom op
Supv sd ed
Sd eff ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
ADR ed
Foley artist
Foley artist
1st asst sd ed
2d asst sd ed
2d asst sd ed
2d asst sd ed
2d asst sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
ADR/Foley mixer
ADR/Foley rec
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
Title des
Main titles and opticals
DANCE
Choreog
Asst choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Chief hairdresser
Wigs
PRODUCTION MISC
Dial coach
Casting
Prod coord
Prod coord
Loc mgr
Prod secy
Prod accountant
Transportation coord
Voice casting
Spec equip supplied by
STAND INS
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Film prints processed by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the opera Die Dreigroschenoper , or The Threepenny Opera, book and libretto by Bertolt Brecht, music by Kurt Weill (Berlin, 13 Oct 1928), which was based on the play The Beggar's Opera by John Gay (London, 29 Jan 1728).
SONGS
["The Ballad Of Mack the Knife," written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, with English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein, performed by Roger Daltrey & Julia Migenes
"Peachum's Morning Chorale (Morning Anthem)," written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, with English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein, performed Richard Harris
"I Prefer Duet," written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, with English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein, performed by Richard Harris & Julie Walters
+
SONGS
["The Ballad Of Mack the Knife," written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, with English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein, performed by Roger Daltrey & Julia Migenes
"Peachum's Morning Chorale (Morning Anthem)," written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, with English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein, performed Richard Harris
"I Prefer Duet," written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, with English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein, performed by Richard Harris & Julie Walters
"Wedding Song," written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, with English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein, performed by the Wedding Guests
"The Cannon Song," written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, with English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein, performed by Raul Julia, Bill Nighy & Company
"Love Song," written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, with English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein, performed by Raul Julia and Rachel Robertson
"Perpendicular Song (Barbara Song)," written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, with English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein, performed by Roger Daltrey and Rachel Robertson
"Ballad Of Sexual Dependency," written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, with English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein, performed by Julie Walters
"Uncertainity Of Human Condition," written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, with English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein, performed by Richard Harris, Julie Walters, Roger Daltrey and Rachel Robertson
"Polly's Song," written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, with English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein, performed by Raul Julia, Rachel Robertson and Roger Daltrey
"Pirate Jenny," written by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, with English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein, performed by Julia Migenes.] Song credits not screen.
+
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
The Threepenny Opera
The Three Penny Opera
Release Date:
2 February 1990
Premiere Information:
Chicago Film Festival premiere: 15 October 1989
Los Angeles and New York openings: 2 February 1990
Production Date:
26 September--mid December 1989
Copyright Claimant:
21st Century Productions, N.V.
Copyright Date:
3 July 1991
Copyright Number:
PA544976
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Duration(in mins):
122
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
29656
SYNOPSIS

In 1838 London, England, a street beggar sings about MacHeath, better known as “Mack the Knife.” When MacHeath whistles beneath Polly Peachum’s bedroom window, the young woman climbs down and gets into his carriage. Mrs. Celia Peachum watches her daughter leave with McHeath, but fails to rouse her sleeping husband, Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum, proprietor of a rag shop called “J. J. Peachum and Co. Clothes Exchange.” Peachum rules the begging trade in London’s Soho district and provides raggedy clothing designed to elicit pity. Charles Filch applies for a beggar’s license, because the upcoming coronation of Queen Victoria will make street begging very lucrative. Peachum asks for two shillings, but settles for a one-shilling down payment until Filch can earn the second one. Meanwhile, Money Matthew, MacHeath’s factotum and carriage driver, takes him and Polly to an empty stable, where they are to be married. Although the place looks threadbare, MacHeath’s thieves arrive with candelabra, hundreds of candles, and necessary furniture to make it look “like Buckingham Palace.” At the clothes shop, J. J. Peachum asks his wife if MacHeath has visited their wayward daughter, but Celia Peachum says nothing about Polly leaving with him. Peachum warns that Mack the Knife is London’s most notorious criminal and despoiler of young women. Reverend Roland Kimble, a drunken preacher, enters the stable where MacHeath’s gang drinks at the wedding tables. Moments later, when Police Commissioner Tiger Brown arrives, the thieves scurry for cover, but MacHeath greets him warmly as “Jackie,” his old Army buddy. Tiger calls a truce for the day. MacHeath explains to his minions that the commissioner tips him off before police raids in return for a percentage of criminal ... +


In 1838 London, England, a street beggar sings about MacHeath, better known as “Mack the Knife.” When MacHeath whistles beneath Polly Peachum’s bedroom window, the young woman climbs down and gets into his carriage. Mrs. Celia Peachum watches her daughter leave with McHeath, but fails to rouse her sleeping husband, Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum, proprietor of a rag shop called “J. J. Peachum and Co. Clothes Exchange.” Peachum rules the begging trade in London’s Soho district and provides raggedy clothing designed to elicit pity. Charles Filch applies for a beggar’s license, because the upcoming coronation of Queen Victoria will make street begging very lucrative. Peachum asks for two shillings, but settles for a one-shilling down payment until Filch can earn the second one. Meanwhile, Money Matthew, MacHeath’s factotum and carriage driver, takes him and Polly to an empty stable, where they are to be married. Although the place looks threadbare, MacHeath’s thieves arrive with candelabra, hundreds of candles, and necessary furniture to make it look “like Buckingham Palace.” At the clothes shop, J. J. Peachum asks his wife if MacHeath has visited their wayward daughter, but Celia Peachum says nothing about Polly leaving with him. Peachum warns that Mack the Knife is London’s most notorious criminal and despoiler of young women. Reverend Roland Kimble, a drunken preacher, enters the stable where MacHeath’s gang drinks at the wedding tables. Moments later, when Police Commissioner Tiger Brown arrives, the thieves scurry for cover, but MacHeath greets him warmly as “Jackie,” his old Army buddy. Tiger calls a truce for the day. MacHeath explains to his minions that the commissioner tips him off before police raids in return for a percentage of criminal proceeds. Tiger Brown gives his assurance that Scotland Yard has nothing in its records to incriminate MacHeath, in case J. J. Peachum “raises a stink” about him seducing the underage Polly. After the wedding and “honeymoon,” Polly Peachum tells the street singer she went “too far” with MacHeath, and wonders how her parents will take the news. Celia Peachum welcomes Polly home, but J. J. calls her a whore. When Polly displays her diamond ring and wedding dress, J. J. recognizes them as stolen goods. Knowing that MacHeath has a price on his head, Peachum drags Polly to Scotland Yard to see Commissioner Tiger Brown, but she alerts her father that Tiger is MacHeath’s best friend and will be of no help. However, Polly learns that MacHeath’s police record does exist, and reports this bad news to her new husband by delivering a copy. The record documents that MacHeth murdered two people, carried out countless thefts and arsons, and seduced girls under the age of consent. MacHeath realizes he must go into hiding in another city. He turns over his account books to Polly and describes how she must carry on his business. In two weeks, she will send his criminal proceeds to a banking house in Manchester, England, and betray his gang to Tiger Brown. MacHeath informs his top henchmen that his new wife and partner will be in charge of his operation during his temporary absence. When Polly displays her ability to take control by kneeing Money Matthew in the crotch and immobilizing “Hookfinger” Jake by grabbing his private parts, the henchmen agree to accept her as MacHeath’s proxy. Polly and MacHeath kiss before he departs. Meanwhile, Mrs. Celia Peachum visits Jenny, a prostitute and MacHeath’s longtime girl friend, offering to pay her a handsome sum to betray him to the police. At the brothel where Jenny works, MacHeath arrives for his regular Thursday appointment, despite his wanted status. When Jenny reads his palm and tells him she sees treachery, MacHeath guesses the betrayer must be a woman. As Jenny and MacHeath reminisce about their former pimp and whore relationship, Sergeant Smith and several policemen raid the bordello, chase MacHeath through the streets, and take him to jail. Tiger Brown visits MacHeath’s cell, insisting he did not betray him, but MacHeath angrily orders him away. As Tiger Brown leaves, his pregnant daughter, Lucy, arrives. When Polly shows up moments afterward to bribe the warden, she learns that Lucy is also MacHeath’s wife. Polly fights her over MacHeath, but Lucy, being the commissioner’s daughter, orders the jailers to evict Polly from the prison. MacHeath pledges his love to Lucy, and convinces her to steal the keys to his cell. Lucy seduces the warden, gets the keys, and releases MacHeath. He promises to rejoin her as soon as she gets her father to clear him of all charges. MacHeath rushes to the bordello and comes in through Jenny’s window. At first she fears retribution for turning him in, but MacHeath makes love to her instead. When he leaves, he promises to return on Thursday. Jenny and several other prostitutes go to the Peachums to collect her payment for betraying MacHeath, but J. J. and Celia claim that MacHeath’s escape nullified the agreement. In anger, Jenny reveals that MacHeath has two other wives besides Polly, and is probably hiding with one of them, Sukey Tawdry, in Chinatown. Suddenly, Tiger Brown’s police raid the clothing shop. The next day is Queen Victoria’s coronation, and all beggars are to be rounded up. Peachum swears to ruin the coronation if Tiger interferes with the beggars. As a trade-off for Tiger’s protection, Peachum forces Jenny to reveal MacHeath’s whereabouts at 21 Dock Street in Chinatown. Tiger’s men recapture MacHeath and return him to prison. As MacHeath looks out the window of his cell, workmen build gallows for the customary hanging of criminals on Coronation Day. MacHeath bribes the warden, on credit, to let his friends into his cell for final farewells, and to raise the needed £500 bribe money. MacHeath is scheduled to hang at 7:00 in the morning, and it is already past 6:30. While loyal Money Matthew and Hookfinger Jake hurry away to raise the money, everyone else—Jenny and the whores, Polly Peachum and her parents, Lucy Brown, and Sukey Tawdry—arrive at the prison to watch MacHeath hang. Money and Hookfinger Jake return without the money. Standing on the gallows with the noose around his neck, MacHeath damns them all, wishes them a bad end, and begs them to pardon him. When he drops through the trap door, MacHeath lands on the shoulders of the singing street beggar standing below. MacHeath reminds everyone that this is an opera, not real life. Besides, this is the day of the queen’s coronation, and Victoria has pardoned him and made him a knight with a pension. Everyone, now revealed to be standing onstage, sings to the 20th century audience at London’s Queen Victoria Theater that in a play, as opposed to life, “happy endings are the rule.” +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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