Drei Mann in einem Boot (1961)

This German comedy is very loosely based on Jerome K. Jerome’s famous novel Three Men in a Boat. And by “very loosely” I mean that this film has a river, a boat, and three men aiming to get away from it all. Not to mention the dog. And not to mention the fact that one of the three is called “Jerome” (but generally goes by “Jo”).

+++ Harry Berg and Jo Sommer are running a tiny advertising company, and they are on a deadline regarding an important project. As Harry’s girl-friend (whom he fully intends to dump) is demanding far too much time and attention and will not let him do any work, the two men have fled to an idyllic and quiet spot at Lake Constance. But since the girl-friend has managed to track them down, they conclude that journeying all over the lake in a small boat might be their last chance of getting some work done.
Meanwhile, art dealer Georg Nolte really needs to get a break from his wife who will not let him enjoy his vacation and instead insists on setting up meetings with prospective clients all the time.
When Georg meets Harry and Jo in a pub and learns of their boat trip plans, he asks to join them. The two agree, as this means dividing the cost and the work among three people instead of two. But soon after they have set out on their journey, their scorned women are following in hot pursuit. Convinced that Lake Constance will not be big enough to escape them, the three men set out to travel down the river Rhine. And in the process they meet an attractive young woman named Betje. +++

This is a harmless comedy, with a few forgettable songs sprinkled in. The three men are played by Hans-Joachim Kulenkampff and Walter Giller as Harry and Jo, and Heinz Erhardt as Georg. Giller was a well-known actor who overwhelmingly appeared in comedic roles; while Kulenkampff is generally far better known for his career as quiz and game show host than for his acting career. Heinz Erhardt is (from today’s point of view) the biggest name. But Erhardt was always an odd case. He was not really an actor, but he was a very popular comedian famous for stand-up routines full of puns, wordplay, and mock-serious poetry and other literary recitations. Yet, despite not being an actor, he played the lead in countless highly successful comedies. But you never felt that he really acted. His characters were always, in one way or another, an extension of his stage persona. And so his dialogue was often written as an extension of his stage routine, with many puns and lots of wordplay. This worked well in a fair number of films, but in the case of Drei Mann in einem Boot it sticks out too much; neither Erhardt nor his routine really fit together well with the film’s story or its tone.

Like similar films, Drei Mann in einem Boot tries to provide audiences (who may not have the time or money to travel for leisure) with the opportunity to see some nice landscapes. In the case of this film (which was shot in colour) you have a few select shots of Schaffhausen and the Rhine Falls, of the Loreley rock, and of Amsterdam. But these moments are short, and the cinematography is not exactly breathtaking, so from today’s point of view these elements are not a huge bonus.

In this film you can also see the beginning of the 1960s’ version of using women as eye-candy – in this case Susanne Cramer who is playing Betje. Born in 1936, Cramer’s acting career began in 1956. Just two years after Drei Mann in einem Boot, Cramer was working in Hollywood, snatching small parts in 1964’s Bedtime Story and 1965’s Dear Brigitte. But her time in the US was mainly spent doing guest appearance on well-known TV-shows, until her untimely death in 1969 (most likely from the Hong Kong flu).

As I indicated, this is a fairly unremarkable film with an unremarkable plot. There are always things going on on screen, but you rarely feel that there is actually something happening. The final leg of the journey takes our trio to Amsterdam, where Georg is due to attend an auction. The sub-plot with the auction (and the way it is used to tie up other plot-lines) feels rather forced, as if the authors desperately needed to find an ending that provided closure. It is not a bad sequence, but it feels tagged on to a certain extent.

I’ll rate this film at 4.5 to 5.0 out of 10.

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