Emil and the Detectives (1931 & 1935) DVD
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Directed by Milton Rosmer, Gerhard Lamprecht
Produced in 1931-35
Main Language - German / English
Fritz Rasp, George Hayes, John Williams, Rolf Wenkhaus
Capturing the vivacity of pre-war Berlin, this Billy Wilder-scripted adventure possesses genuine effervescence and excitement, writes James Oliver. It includes a rare British version too.
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 Originally made in 1935 and long thought to be lost (a 16mm print was recently rediscovered), it moves the action from Berlin to London and, accordingly, contains some rather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.
James Oliver on 23rd June 2013
Author of 184 reviews
When young Emil is sent to Berlin by his mother, the money he is carrying to give to his granny is stolen by a sinister man on the train. Once in Berlin, Emil follows the thief and enlists the help of a gang of youngsters -'the detectives'- to help retrieve the stolen money.
This classic 1931 German adaptation of Erich Kastner's much-loved children's book was written by Kastner himself in collaboration with the legendary Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment) and an uncredited Emeric Pressburger (A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes).
One of the first German sound films, Emil and the Detectives provides a fascinating glimpse of Berlin before Nazism and the Second World War.
Also contains the rare 1935 British version of the tale.
Length: 69 mins
Format: DVD B&W
Released: 15th July 2013
Cat No: BFIVD981
- Emil and the Detectives (Milton Rosmer, 1935, 60 mins)
- Fully illustrated booklet with original promotional material, contemporary reviews, and new essays by Bryony Dixon, Caren Willig and Children's Laureate Michael Rosen.