Defying Nazis? Sure! It’s all in a days work

Of all the books written on German militarism, “The Captain From Koepenick,” by German playwright Carl Zuckmayer, is not only one of the great all-time satires, but penetrates to the heart of the matter more pointedly than a dozen treatises.
The play premiered in 1930 and immediately earned its author a place on the Nazis’ enemy list. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Zuckmayer was a marked man, more for his political views than for his mother’s descent from an assimilated Jewish family.
The title character, Wilhelm Voigt, is a petty criminal who tries to go straight as a shoemaker after his release from prison. Every attempt to get a job is foiled by the German bureaucracy and by employers who will only hire men who show proof of army service.
In desperation, the middle-aged Voigt buys a second-hand captain’s uniform from a pawnbroker, puts it on and, suddenly, every good German stands at attention and obeys his every command.Though the time and setting are pre-World War I, during the Kaiser’s reign, the mentality it skewers was sadly confirmed during the Nazi regime.
After returning from wartime exile, Zuckmayer wrote the movie version, starring Heinz Ruehmann, the comic German everyman.
Rarely shown in the West, the film is part of a 12-week retrospective of works by German director Helmut Kaeutner, now under way at the Goethe Institut in Los Angeles.
Also part of the series is Kaeutner’s second major hit, “The Devil’s General,” starring the great German actor Curt Juergens. The 1955 movie was one of the first post-war attempts to examine the recent Nazi past. At its center is a popular World War II Luftwaffe general, torn between loyalty to his country and his disgust with the Nazi regime.
Kaeutner wrote the 1929 screenplay for the classic “The Blue Angel,” starring Marlene Dietrich, and made his directorial debut in 1939 with the film, “Kitty and the World Conference.” It was immediately banned by propaganda minister Josef Goebbels for its allegedly pro-British attitude.
Nevertheless, the director stayed active during World War II with pictures that largely ignored war and ideology, and he reached his artistic peak in the 1950s.
Also scheduled are films dealing with the post-war East-West German divide, as well as a number of nonpolitical romance movies.
Weekly screenings, through Nov. 28, start at 7 p.m. at the Goethe Institut, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., No. 100 “The Devil’s General” will be shown Oct. 5, and “The Captain From Koepenick” on Nov. 28. Admission is $5.