Steppenwolf (1974)

R | 105 mins | Drama | 18 December 1974

Director:

Fred Haines

Writer:

Fred Haines

Cinematographer:

Tom Pinter

Editor:

Irving Lerner

Production Designer:

Leo Karen

Production Companies:

D|R Films, Inc., ProduFilm GmbH
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HISTORY

All credits appear at the beginning of the picture. When the film ends, the illustration of a wolf enclosed in a burning heart appears onscreen, inscribed with the word “Steppenwolf.” Beneath the image is the following text: “Filmed on location in Basle, Switzerland, and at Studio Hamburg, Germany. A ProduFilm GmbH Production.” Voice-over narration and dream sequences are featured throughout the film.
       German nobel-prize winner Hermann Hesse died in 1962, but his 1927 novel, Steppenwolf, became a cult classic during the anti-establishment youth movement of the late-1960s and sold over 1.5 million copies in the U.S., alone, according to various contemporary sources, including the 23 Oct 1974 Var review of the film. As stated in a 30 Jan 1974 DV article, producer Melvin Fishman picked up on the commercial potential of the novel and pursued the rights to Steppenwolf after his work as associate producer on director Satyajit Ray’s The Alien ended abruptly in 1967 when the project was cancelled. Despite warnings that Hesse’s publisher and estate were notoriously reluctant to negotiate a deal, Fishman spent months working to gain their approval. A May 1969 edition of Publishers Weekly announced that Fishman, who partnered with producer Richard Herland to form a new company for the film, United Screen Arts, paid a $5,000 advance for a $165,000 option of the novel. According to DV, who put the cost of the film rights at $150,000, it took Fishman five years to raise enough funds to complete payment of the option, and Herland eventually invested $300,000 of his personal wealth into ... More Less

All credits appear at the beginning of the picture. When the film ends, the illustration of a wolf enclosed in a burning heart appears onscreen, inscribed with the word “Steppenwolf.” Beneath the image is the following text: “Filmed on location in Basle, Switzerland, and at Studio Hamburg, Germany. A ProduFilm GmbH Production.” Voice-over narration and dream sequences are featured throughout the film.
       German nobel-prize winner Hermann Hesse died in 1962, but his 1927 novel, Steppenwolf, became a cult classic during the anti-establishment youth movement of the late-1960s and sold over 1.5 million copies in the U.S., alone, according to various contemporary sources, including the 23 Oct 1974 Var review of the film. As stated in a 30 Jan 1974 DV article, producer Melvin Fishman picked up on the commercial potential of the novel and pursued the rights to Steppenwolf after his work as associate producer on director Satyajit Ray’s The Alien ended abruptly in 1967 when the project was cancelled. Despite warnings that Hesse’s publisher and estate were notoriously reluctant to negotiate a deal, Fishman spent months working to gain their approval. A May 1969 edition of Publishers Weekly announced that Fishman, who partnered with producer Richard Herland to form a new company for the film, United Screen Arts, paid a $5,000 advance for a $165,000 option of the novel. According to DV, who put the cost of the film rights at $150,000, it took Fishman five years to raise enough funds to complete payment of the option, and Herland eventually invested $300,000 of his personal wealth into the film in exchange for fifty percent of its profits.
       While Fishman was unable to interest major studios in the project, he secured the promise of $35,000 from “an unidentified miniconglomerate” to hire writer-director Fred Haines, who had received an Academy Award nomination for co-scripting an adaptation of Ulysses for Joseph Strick’s 1967 production (see entry). Although the unnamed backer ultimately failed to procure funding, a 13 Sep 1971 Publishers Weekly news item reported that the film rights were finally sold to Fishman and Herland for $175,000 after Hesse’s publishing house, Suhrkamp Verlag, approved Haines’s screenplay. The company also negotiated for a collaborative role “in the shaping of the picture artistically.” Fishman then convinced entrepreneur Peter J. Sprague, who is credited as the film’s presenter and executive producer, to finance the picture for $2 million. As stated in a 19 Dec 1973 Var article, Steppenwolf marked Sprague’s first foray into filmmaking. Sprague managed the budget, himself, and formed a studio in Basel, Switzerland, ProduFilm GmbH, to oversee production with a predominantly American staff and crew.
       Filming took place in Basel, the location of the novel, but the surrealistic “Magic Theater” sequence, which included an innovative combination of video effects and animation, was created at Hamburg Studio in Germany, according to a 28 Nov 1973 Var news item that announced post-production was underway. Hamburg Studio had agreed to trade goods and services for a stake in the film’s profits. As stated in the 23 Oct 1974 Var review, the film’s effects marked “one of the most advanced examples of transferring television images to film” to the time. Art director Leo Karen and animation designer Jaroslav Bradac were both Czechoslovakian political refugees who completed the animated portions of the film in Wiesbaden, Germany, because they were unable to return home, according to the 19 Dec 1973 Var. A 12 Dec 1973 Var news item reported that the film would return to ProduFilm headquarters in Basel for editing and be completed in London, UK, where post-sync dialogue was recorded. The Var review stated that the film was shot in six languages and complained of its “erratic dubbing.”
       Hermann Hesse’s daughter-in-law, Isa Hesse (misspelled “Ida” in the 12 Dec 1973 Var ), worked on set, photographing stills, and his granddaughter, Helen Hesse, played the role of “Frau Hefte.”
       As noted in an 11 Jan 1975 LAT brief, Sprague distributed the picture under the banner of his mid-century home furnishings chain store, Design Research. However, the company is not credited as a distributor in the film. Using a “four-wall arrangement” with exhibitors, which required distributors to pay theaters a rental fee, Sprague opened the film on ten screens in the Bay Area of Northern California in Nov 1974 after a 17 Oct 1974 premiere at the San Francisco Film Festival. Despite its generally negative reviews, Steppenwolf fared well among Hesse enthusiasts and intellectuals, and LAT reported that it grossed $10,000 weekly at a local theater.
       The film marked Haines’s directorial debut of a feature film.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
30 Jan 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Oct 1974
p. 23.
LAHExam
19 Dec 1974.
---
Los Angeles Times
18 Dec 1974.
---
Los Angeles Times
11 Jan 1975.
---
New York Times
19 Dec 1974
p. 60.
Newsweek
30 Dec 1974.
---
Publishers Weekly
May 1969.
---
Publishers Weekly
13 Sep 1971.
---
Time
13 Jan 1975.
---
Variety
28 Nov 1973.
---
Variety
12 Dec 1973.
---
Variety
19 Dec 1973
p. 5, 16.
Variety
23 Oct 1974
p. 30.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit mgr
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Pres/Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Stills
Stills
Cam asst
Cam asst
Video technique
Video technique
Video technique
Film processing
Video transfers
Video seqs
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Paintings for the Magic Theatre by
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Props
Props
Props
Const
COSTUMES
Miss Sanda's cost by
Miss Sanda's jewelry
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
SOUND
Sd ed
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Hairdresser
Hairdresser
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr assisted by
Unit mgr assisted by
Unit mgr assisted by
Continuity
Secy
Dial coach
Prod supv
ANIMATION
Anim des
Anim photog
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Der steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse (Berlin, 1927).
AUTHOR
MUSIC
"Sinfonia in D" by W. F. Bach.
SONGS
"Yearning-(Just for You)," by Benny Davis and Joe Burke
"Pablo's Tango," lyrics by Fred Haines, music by George Gruntz.
DETAILS
Release Date:
18 December 1974
Premiere Information:
San Francisco Film Festival screening: 17 October 1974
Los Angeles and New York openings: 18 December 1974
Production Date:
in Basel, Switzerland and Germany
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby System
Color
Lenses/Prints
Prints by Technicolor®
With animated sequences
Duration(in mins):
105
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
Switzerland, United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1920s Basel, Switzerland, writer Harry Haller finds his solitary existence unbearable and contemplates suicide. Seeking distraction, Harry wanders through the city at night and discovers the hologram sign for a Magic Theater, but the words disappear and he does not go inside. Slumped on the stoop of his apartment building stairway, Harry confesses to a neighbor that he is a “Steppenwolf,” a wild beast who “climbs up other people’s stairs.” On another evening, Harry encounters a man advertising the Magic Theater. Just before vanishing, the man gives Harry a booklet titled Tractate on the Steppenwolf. Holding the treatise, Harry imagines the story of himself as a boy, possessed by the spirit of a wolf. The boy grew up to have a wild and independent nature, but he was trapped inside the body of a conformist, bourgeois intellectual. Cursed by the contradiction, Harry realizes freedom is death and decides to carry out his suicide on his upcoming fiftieth birthday. Sometime later, Harry dines with his wealthy friends, Frau Hefte and her husband, Mr. Hefte. The conservative gentleman criticizes Harry’s recent newspaper article expressing political dissent and assumes that the author is not Harry, but rather an imposter who has usurped his friend’s moniker. Harry then offends his hosts, claims he is unfit for society and leaves. Afraid to face solitude at home, Harry walks through the night and meets a beautiful courtesan named Hermine at a dance hall. Harry is stunned when the young lady hands him a razor blade, telling him that he can fulfill his ... +


In 1920s Basel, Switzerland, writer Harry Haller finds his solitary existence unbearable and contemplates suicide. Seeking distraction, Harry wanders through the city at night and discovers the hologram sign for a Magic Theater, but the words disappear and he does not go inside. Slumped on the stoop of his apartment building stairway, Harry confesses to a neighbor that he is a “Steppenwolf,” a wild beast who “climbs up other people’s stairs.” On another evening, Harry encounters a man advertising the Magic Theater. Just before vanishing, the man gives Harry a booklet titled Tractate on the Steppenwolf. Holding the treatise, Harry imagines the story of himself as a boy, possessed by the spirit of a wolf. The boy grew up to have a wild and independent nature, but he was trapped inside the body of a conformist, bourgeois intellectual. Cursed by the contradiction, Harry realizes freedom is death and decides to carry out his suicide on his upcoming fiftieth birthday. Sometime later, Harry dines with his wealthy friends, Frau Hefte and her husband, Mr. Hefte. The conservative gentleman criticizes Harry’s recent newspaper article expressing political dissent and assumes that the author is not Harry, but rather an imposter who has usurped his friend’s moniker. Harry then offends his hosts, claims he is unfit for society and leaves. Afraid to face solitude at home, Harry walks through the night and meets a beautiful courtesan named Hermine at a dance hall. Harry is stunned when the young lady hands him a razor blade, telling him that he can fulfill his suicidal fantasies at the club. Hermine retracts the offering and claims that she is only kidding. The couple drinks until the club closes and Hermine refuses to pity Harry; however, she agrees to meet him again for dinner. Before Hermine leaves with her awaiting customers, she gives Harry a key to her room and the razor, presenting him with the choice to live or die. Harry sleeps alone in Hermine’s bed and dreams of the 18th century German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whom he criticizes for advocating optimism in light of life’s meaninglessness. Two days later, Harry dines with Hermine at a café and she insists that he dance. Afterward, Harry buys a Victrola and vows to obey Hermine’s commands, including her “last wish” to die by his hand. Back at Harry’s apartment, Hermine learns that Harry is haunted by the suicide of his childhood friend, Gustav. Hermine takes Harry to a club the next evening, demands that he dance with her companion, Maria, and introduces him to a jazz saxophonist named Pablo, who gives them cocaine. Later, Maria surprises Harry at his apartment, lying naked in his bed, and they make love. Later still, Pablo picks Harry up in a stolen car and asks for a loan, promising Harry another night with Maria. The three friends discuss love in a drug-induced stupor, and although Pablo proposes a threesome, Harry declines. At a raucous masquerade, Harry unsuccessfully searches for Hermine but instead encounters Goethe, who gives him a token that reads: “Magic Theater tonight for madmen only, Hermine is in hell.” Harry finds Maria and leads her in a dance, then bids her farewell, saying that Hermine is waiting for him. When Harry reunites with Hermine, who is dressed in a tuxedo, she invites him to hell and describes the underworld as a Magic Theater devoid of space and time. However, Harry learns from Pablo that the price of entry is his life. After drinking Pablo’s wine, Harry is guided into a room with many doors and Pablo explains that each portal leads to something Harry is searching for. Before Harry begins his quest, Pablo and Hermine hold a mirror to reflect their friend’s image. As the illusion morphs into Harry’s various personalities, including a young man and a wolf, Pablo says that Harry must use laughter to “conquer” his battling identities and transcend his corporal existence. Inside the Magic Theater, Harry reunites with Gustav, who is seeking shelter from a gun battle in “the war against the machine,” and Harry joins his friend in the crusade. Elsewhere in the theater, Harry sees Goethe, who shows Harry a chessboard. Goethe explains that chess represents life and each game piece is a figment of Harry’s personality. Harry then envisions himself in a circus act where he is both a wolf and its tamer. Next, Harry is transported to a meadow where he encounters his first love, Rosa. Behind another door, in a Middle Eastern castle filled with dancing women, Harry chases Hermine, but she eludes him. Harry sees a key on the ground transform into a knife and hears Hermine’s voice, reminding him that he promised to kill her. As Harry picks up the knife, he finds himself with Pablo, whom he mistakes for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. After Harry’s published books fall from the sky, pelting him, he discovers Hermine and Pablo lying together naked. Hermine lifts herself into Harry’s embrace and he stabs her to death. Pablo, again dressed as Mozart, explains that Harry must perceive reality differently, then crumples Hermine’s body into his hands as she transforms into a black textile. Still within the imaginary world, Harry faces an execution trial for symbolically killing Hermine, plotting his suicide and remaining humorless. He is punished with eternal life and a twelve-hour suspension from the Magic Theater. However, Harry claims that he now understands Pablo and Goethe and wants another chance at life. As the jury laughs, Harry vanishes into a blue sky that reflects Hermine’s face. +

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

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