+++ Oskar Külz, a middle-aged butcher from Hanover, is the embodiment of a lower-middle-class business owner. A hard-working man, he runs a successful small butcher’s shop in the city, together with his wife. And from what we can glean from his conversations, all their sons have butcher shops too, and their daughters are married to butchers as well. As a hard-working, self-employed man, he has never travelled much, and he has never been abroad. But now, on a whim, he has journeyed into the big wide world – which in his case only has taken him as far as Copenhagen. Being bored and not really sure what to do with himself, he starts a conversation with a young lady, Irene Trübner, who turns out to be from Hanover as well. She is getting increasingly worried, because she is convinced that there are strange people watching her – an idea that Külz does not take seriously and dismisses as female hysteria. However, the circumstances that led Irene to be in Copenhagen compel Külz to agree to assist her and to travel back to Hanover on the same train as her.
Meanwhile, there are several men tailing Mr Külz, or Irene, or each other. And so a heist plot unfolds in which at least three parties are trying to outfox each other, and which leads to a number of twists and turns. +++
This film – whose title roughly translates as “The Vanished Miniature Painting” – is based on a novel by famous German author Erich Kästner (the author of the book behind The Parent Trap); for Die Verschwundene Miniatur, Kästner wrote the screenplay adaptation himself.
Works by Kästner that have been put on the silver screen are usually those that feature child protagonists, or are otherwise aimed at children. Die Verschwundene Miniatur differs in that point. While it is harmless and unchallenging enough to be watched and enjoyed by kids, it features no child characters worth mentioning, and the theme is not really one which children will be too familiar with.
Die Verschwundene Miniatur is a solid heist comedy, which is enjoyable and which features enjoyable characters; but it is not very thought-through in its heist parts, not very surprising in its twists, and not very energetic in its comedy. This is a film designed to help you pass 80 minutes in a pleasant way, not to blow your mind or to inspire you to enrol in film school.
The film was directed by Carl-Heinz Schroth, who is better known as an actor (see Frech und Verliebt). The cast is very good throughout. I barely know any of them, but some have significant filmographies to their name. The ones I do know are Hubert von Meyerinck, who plays a role that seems to me surprisingly small; and Lina Carstens, who plays a minor supporting role as Mrs Külz. I doubt anyone in Germany would recognise Carstens’s name, but almost everyone will have seen her face more than once, as she played the housekeeper in two very famous German Father Brown adaptations that to this day seem in constant rotation in the TV listings. As far as big names are concerned, comedienne Liesl Karlstadt has a cameo, unfortunately with no lines.
The three main roles are filled by Paul Westermeier (Külz), Paola Loew (Irene), and Ralph Lothar. Westermeier is the ideal man to play the naïve, down-to-earth Külz and he carries the film with his (almost boorish) energy. The internationally educated Loew (who for ten years was married to world-famous pianist Friedrich Gulda) sets very fine, very important counterpoints to Westermeier’s character, with her gentle way of talking and her strong-yet-fragile demeanour. Lothar fits right into this mix, although his character’s patronising air can get a bit much at times.
The film is a bit slow and a bit tame for a heist film (though not exactly uneventful), and not really hilarious if compared to today’s crime comedies. It is a bit of a feel-good film, about decent people doing the decent thing and bad people all getting their just deserts. And that is partly this film’s core nature: it may feel a bit “lame”, but it does so because it is a ‘50s celebration (and defence) of solid and honest middle-class life.
So the film does not try to maximise suspense or excitement; and since it is about the three main characters and their interactions more than anything else, it does also not go to great lengths to employ a maximum of finesse in the crime plot itself. There are even some minor plot holes, in my opinion. So, in terms of finesse, the premise certainly offers more potential, and that is not something that a writer or a director would deliberately leave unused if this film were made today.
The film looks good, even though there are unavoidable back-projection issues. But more than the looks I enjoyed the great film music courtesy of Hans-Martin Majewski. As I said, the cast is another great asset of this film and I would in particular love to see more of Westermeier and Loew.
Rating: 6.0 to 6.5 out of 10