Helmut Käutner

Scen.: Helmut Käutner, Walter Ulbrich. F.: Heinz Pehlke. M.: Klaus Dudenhöfer. Scgf.: Gabriel Pellon. Mus.: Bernhard Eichhorn. Int.: Helmut Wildt (Robert Neidhardt), Ingmar Zeisberg (Inge Gaines), Hans Cossy (John Gaines), Wolfgang Büttner (Otto Krahne), Anita Höfer (Elli), Heinrich Trimbur (Eric Moeller), Edeltraut Elsner (Anni Peel), Peter Nestler (Bill Rodgers). Prod.: Walter Ulbrich per Universum-Film AG. 35mm. D.: 111’. Bn.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Among the lowest moments of FRG film culture ranks an award handed out in 1962 by a group of journalists who conceived of themselves as Young Critics, the new makers and shapers of movie manners. Said assignation recognized the “worst film by an established director” and went ex aequo to Schwarzer Kies and Der Traum von Lieschen Müller (The Dream of Lieschen Mueller), both masterpieces by Helmut Käutner (had they known that during the same period Käutner also shot parts of Radványi Géza’s Es muß nicht immer Kaviar sein and Diesmal muß es Kaviar sein as well as his wife Erica Balqué’s lone directorial effort, Zu jung für die Liebe?, they might have included those as well…). One can only say: here, insult was added to injury as Schwarzer Kies had already been the subject of a (dubiously motivated) scandal. After the film’s premiere, the Central Council of Jews in Germany’s secretary general, Hendrik van Dam, judged it anti-Semitic due to a scene in which a bordello owner with a concentration camp number tattooed on his forearm is called Saujud (Jewish swine) by an all too ordinary elderly guy who just wants to listen to a march on the jukebox. Some black US soldiers and the hookers stare at the offender, aghast and disgusted. Van Dam’s problem was the idea that a Holocaust survivor could own a brothel – a notion the Central Council’s other members apparently didn’t share at all. Later, van Dam admitted that he had over-done things, maybe even a bit gratuitously – but by then, the affair had gotten out of hand and the film altered severely. That only recently Schwarzer Kies was celebrated as a major re-discovery and is now discussed as a key work of the era feels hollow – for there is something especially bitter about this kind of belated praise… After a comparable run-in with the new critical establishment over Die Rote (Redhead, 1962), Käutner focused his creative energies on television (aside from three serenely mellow, self-consciously old-fashioned big-screen excursions).

Olaf Möller

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