Studio: British Film Institute
Length: 69 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 15 July 2013
Cat No: BFIVD981
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Emil and the Detectives (1931 & 1935)
Classic German adventure drama adapted from the novel by Erich Kästner, who co-wrote the script with Billy Wilder. The film follows young... Read More
Emil and the Detectives, Erich Kästner's beloved Berlin-based adventure story, was first published in 1929 and like all instant bestsellers then and now, the movie rights were quickly snapped up: this wonderful DVD showcases the results.
As might be expected, the film sticks closely to the plot of the book. Young tearaway Emil is dispatched by his mother to deliver some money to his grandmother in the city but, en route, he's robbed by a sinister man (the very great Fritz Rasp in perhaps his very best role). Upon arrival in Berlin, he teams up with a gang of local urchins to find the villain and thence put a stop to his monkey business.
It's yet more evidence for the sheer vitality of German film of this period, still firmly in its golden age. Moreover, it shows just how much more there was to Weimar cinema than the sturm und drang of its best known directors. This is an adventure possessed of a genuine effervescence and excitement.
Then again, that might be expected from a film scripted in part by (an uncredited) Emeric Pressburger and Billy Wilder. Not that they deserve all the credit: director Gerhard Lamprecht may be less well known these days than his writers but he does a fine job here, perfectly capturing the pace of Kästner's barrelling yarn.
As befits a story that celebrate the possibilities of the modern city, Lamprecht took his camera out on the streets, capturing the vivacity of the pre-war city in a way that's reminiscent of another great Berlin film of this era, People on Sunday (also written by Wilder). Not that it's entirely naturalistic: there's a drug-induced dream sequence that harks back to the great expressionist nightmares of the 1920s.
Also included on the DVD is the first British adaptation of the story. Originally made in 1935 and long thought to be lost (a 16mm print was recently rediscovered), it moves the action from Berlin to London and, accordingly, contains some rather charming period photography. Great fun all round.