Comedian Harmonists

Germany

Synopsis

1927. Berlin is the capital of film, theatre and variety shows - and daily rising un-employment figures. Acting student Harry Frommermann is twenty years old, musically talented and freezing. since he has no money to buy coal. Suddenly he has a flash of inspiration. He will start a group of a cappella singers, modelled on the farnous and highly successful American group The Revellers. The songs and the lyrics should be vibrant, cheerful and cheeky. All he needs are the singers. Over a hundred men respond to his advertisement, a flood of applicants cram themselves onto the entire length of the staircase outside his attic apartment. Sadly none of them have the qualities that Frommermann is looking for - until Robert Biberti pushes in through the door. Harry Frommermann has found his first ensemble member. They are soon able to find all the other members of the group, which include Roman Cycowski, an ex-opera singer from Poland, now state-less and living in Germany; Erich Abraham Collin, a rake who can speak seven languages fluently; Ari Leschnikoff, a Bulgarian ex-officer, whose delicious tenor voice was to drive wornen wild and the 19-vear-old Erwin Bootz who is taken on as pianist.
They throw themselves into their rehearsals, full of ehthusiasm. Months pass, relationships within the group are not without their share of tension but, finally they make their long-awaited break-through. "The Comedian Harmonists” as they are now known, are booked for a concert. Their appearance is a resounding success and the group soon shoots to fame. In no time the Comedian Harmonists are touring all over Europe; everywhere they go, they succeed in delighting and moving their audiences. Their sudden fame makes them just a bit too careless, however, and they refuse to see the threat posed by the changing political situation. Even after Hitler's seizure of power they neglect to take any kind of precautionary measures to make sure they can leave the country, refusing to believe that the government's now official anti-semitic doctrine could effect them. And this in spite of the fact that Frornmermann, Cycowksi and Collin are all three of Jewish descent .

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"Already a local box-office winner when it screened in the New German Cinema section at the Berlin Film Festival, Comedian Harmonists is a biopic in the style of a fifties Hollywood musical. Originally a stage play, the film is based on a true story, charting the rise and fall of a hugely popular barbershop sextet whose members fell victim to anti-Semitism and the rise of the Nazi Party in thirties Germany. The period covered is from 1927, when the group was first formed, and takes in its success, followed by pressure from the authorities to drop the three Jewish members and sing a few pro-Nazi songs, through to the decision - after an emotional farewell concert - to relocate to the United States.
Miramax picked up US rights almost immediately, and there has also been talk of an American remake.
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Director's Biography

Born in Munich in 1939, from 1953 to 1961 Joseph Vilsmaier trained at "Arnold & Richter's" (camera technical department, laboratory, studio management). At the same time he studied music (piano) at the Munich Conservatory. In 1961, he became camera assistant at the Bavaria Studios; from 1972 onwards, freelance cameraman at Bavaria. He began making feature films in 1988.

Filmography:
1988 - HERBSTMILCH
1990 - RAMA DAMA
1992 - STALINGRAD
1994 - CHARLIE & LOUISE - DAS DOPPELTE LOTTCHEN
1993 - SCHLAFES BRUDER
1996 - UND KEINER WEINT MIR NACH
1997 - COMEDIAN HARMONISTS
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Cast & Crew

Directed by: Joseph Vilsmaier

Written by: Klaus Richter

Produced by: Reinhard Klooss, Danny Krausz, Hanno Huth

Cinematography: Joseph Vilsmaier

Editing: Peter Adam

Production Design: Rolf Zehetbauer

Costume Design: Ute Hofinger

Hair & Make-up: Heiner Niehues

Main Cast: Ben Becker (Robert Biberti), Heino Ferch (Roman Cycowski), Ulrich Noethen (Harry Frommermann), Heinrich Schafmeister (Erich A. Collin), Max Tidof (Ari Leschnikoff), Kai Wiesinger (Erwin Bootz)

Nominations and Awards

  • European Cinematographer – Prix Carlo Di Palma 1998
  • EFA Feature Film Selection 1998