Emil und die Detektive (1931)

vt Emil and the Detectives
Germany / 69 minutes / bw / UFA Dir: Gerhard Lamprecht Pr: Günther Stapenhorst Scr: Billie Wilder (i.e., Billy Wilder) Story: Emil und die Detektive (1929; vt Emil and the Detectives) by Erich Kästner Cine: Werner Brandes Cast: Käthe Haack, Rolf Wenkhaus, Olga Engl, Inge Landgut, Fritz Rasp, Rudolf Biebrach, Hans Joachim Schaufuss, Hans Richter, Hubert Schmitz, Hans Albrecht Löhr, Waldemar Kupczyk, Ernst Eberhard Reling.

Emil und die D 0 - opener

The first screen adaptation of Kästner’s much-loved children’s classic; the novel would be adapted for the screen again in 1935, 1952 (TV miniseries), 1954, 1964 and 2001. (For more on these remakes see below.)

Young Neustadt native Emil Tischbein (Wenkhaus) is sent by his hard-up hairdresser mother Emma (Haack) to Berlin for a holiday with his grandmother. Aboard the train his fellow-passengers include a strange man with a bowler hat (Rasp), later identified as Grundeis, who tells him tall tales about what wonders await him in Berlin—for example, that you can go to any bank and pawn your brain for 1,000 marks, retrieving it later for 1,200; it is, after all, perfectly possible to get by without your brain for a couple of days.

Emil und die D 2 - Emil chats with a fellow passenger

Emil (Rolf Wenkhaus) chats with a fellow passenger on the train.

Emil und die D 3 - The creepy Man in the Bowler Hat

The creepy Man in the Bowler Hat (Fritz Rasp).

When the rest of the passengers get off and Emil is left alone with Grundeis, the man’s behavior starts to spook him out; he nonetheless accepts a piece of candy . . . and then goes into an apparently drug-induced sleep, complete with wild hallucinatory dreams. He wakes as the train arrives in Berlin to find that Grundeis has already gotten off, and seems to have taken with him the 140 marks that Emma Tischbein had given her son with strict instructions that he guard it from thieves.

Emil und die D 4 - Emil starts to hallucinate after eating Bowler Hat's candy

Emil starts to hallucinate after eating The Man in the Bowler Hat’s candy.

Emil follows the thief, traveling by tram through the streets of Berlin; the movie provides a great opportunity to see a city that would a decade and a half later be largely reduced to rubble. Meanwhile Emil’s seamstress grandma, Ottilie Tischbein (Engl), and the cousin he kind of fancies, Pony Hütchen (Landgut), are waiting worriedly for him at the Friedrichstrasse station, which was where he was supposed to get off.

Emil und die D 1 - A present for Pony

A present for Pony.

Emil’s approached by a boy called Gustav (Schaufuss), whose trademark habit is honking the horn he keeps in his pocket. On hearing of Emil’s plight, Gustav rounds up a tribe of fellow-urchins—”The Detectives”—to assist him in reclaiming his money from the thief. Among them are The Professor (Schmitz), Dienstag/Tuesday (Löhr), Mittenzwei (Reling), Gerold (Kupczyk) and Krumbiegel (Richter), known as the Fliegender Hirsch (“Flying Deer”) because he owns a kick-scooter and speaks in cod Native American fashion. Flying Deer even takes Emil’s suitcase to Grandma Ottilie’s house with a message to her not to worry. He returns with Pony and her bicycle in tow . . .

Emil und die D 5 - Gustav introduces the Detectives

Gustav (Hans Joachim Schaufuss) introduces the Detectives . . .

Emil und die D 6 - The Professor has a whipround

. . . and The Professor (Hubert Schmitz) organizes a whipround.

One excellent scene occurs when Emil, disguised as a bellboy, has infiltrated Grundeis’s room in the rundown Hotel Biedermann, and is hiding beneath the bed. He’s already located the thief’s wallet—it’s under the pillow—so he sneaks up a hand to try to purloin it. Just at that moment, however, Grundeis rolls over, trapping Emil’s hand. In another very funny scene Flying Deer insists the boys smoke a peace pipe: the “peace pipe” is in fact an old cigar butt, and as it does the rounds its progress is marked by bouts of uncontrollable coughing.

Emil und die D 7 - Even in his jammies Grundeis retains the bowler

Even in his jammies, Grundeis (Fritz Rasp) retains the bowler hat.

What’s unexpected, at least to those unfamiliar with the book, is that when the kids finally apprehend Grundeis it’s shown that he did indeed steal Emil’s 140 marks—i.e., that it wasn’t just a matter of Emil falling asleep on the train, having a weird dream and mislaying the money. Moreover, once the cops have been persuaded to take “Grundeis” in, he proves to be Mitlinski, the notorious Hanover bank robber!

Emil und die D 8 - Where Grundeis stashes his dough

 Where Grundeis stashes his ill gotten dough . . . where else would you expect?

Obviously this isn’t a noir movie—despite its theme of crime and punishment!—but it’s of noirish interest because of the Billy Wilder connection: after he fled the Nazis and began working in Hollywood, Wilder was responsible for such iconic noir and noirish movies as DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950; vt Sunset Blvd.) and ACE IN THE HOLE (1951; vt The Big Carnival). In the same year as scripting Emil und die Detektive he wrote the significant Robert Siodmak protonoir Der MANN, DER SEINEN MÖRDER SUCHT (1931; vt The Man who Searched for his Own Murderer; vt Jim, der Mann mit der Narbe; vt Jim, the Man with the Scar).

Kästner—who sometimes wrote as Berthold Bürger—had his own difficulties with Nazism, which he vehemently opposed even while electing to remain in Germany. His politics and his pacifism led to the Nazis publicly burning his books in the mid-1930s, although Emil und die Detektive was spared because it had already established an enormous popularity.

The other screen adaptations of Kästner’s novel have included:

  • Emil and the Detectives (1935 UK) dir Milton Rosmer, with John Williams as Emil Blake
  • Emil and the Detectives (1952 3-part BBC TV serial UK) pr Rex Tucker, with Robert Sandford as Emil Tichburn
  • Emil und die Detektive (1954 WG) dir Robert A. Stemmle, with Peter Finkbeiner as Emil Tischbein
  • Pega Ladrão (1957 Brazil), dir Alberto Pieralisi, with Jose de Jesús as Milô
  • Emil and the Detectives (1964 US) dir Peter Tewksbury, with Bryan Russel(l) as Emil Tischbein—this is the well known Disney version
  • Emil und die Detektive (2001 Germany) dir Franziska Buch, with Tobias Retzlaff as Emil Tischbein


Emil und die D 9 - The Detectives en masse

The Detectives en masse.


On Amazon.com: Emil and the Detectives (Emil und die Detektive) [PAL, Reg.2 Import – UK]

For the newish German adaptation: Emil und die Detektive

For the Disney version: Emil and the Detectives

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