HANSEL AND GRETEL
(1969/1970/1974) Color 38 minutes
distributed by Trans-International Films
presented by K. Gordon Murray
narrated by Paul Nagel
HANZEL UND GRETEL
(1954) Germany Color 38 / 87 minutes
Directed by Fritz Genschow
Produced by F.J. Gottleib
Based on a story by the Brothers Grimm
Editing: Annemarie Rokoss
Music: Richard Stauch
Cinematography: Gerhard Huttula
Assistant Camera: Erich Mier
Cast: Erika Petrick (Mother), August Spillner (Father), Uwe Witt (Hänsel), Heidi Ewert (Gretel), Elisabeth Ilna (Witch), Werner Stock (Michel), Erika Kruse (Lene), Wulf Rittscher (Kaufmann Klos), Renee Strobrawa (Frau Köper)
Fritz Genschow’s HANSEL & GRETEL is a marvelous film. In its short running time, it manages to pack in more drama, joy and wonder than many films twice its length.
Filmed entirely outdoors, deep in the heart of the Black Forest, Genschow’s camera captures some amazing natural vistas, as well as precious scenes of quaint villages, still standing intact in postwar Germany, bizarre anachronisms even in the mid-20th century, and looking downright ancient today.
The story weaves back and forth between Hansel and Gretel and their parents and their trials, and two relatively “upscale” neighbors, Michel and Helen who are trying to make a living off the husband’s wooden doll creations.
Thus, we get to see firsthand the economic struggles of postwar Germany via a lovely folkloric allegory. Michel and Helen go the Herzberg market, where they have to compete with the ruthless “corporate” bully Klos to sell their wares. The artist trying to sell his wares in a strictly material world is a hard road, surely.
Meanwhile, Hansel & Gretel’s family is poor. Really poor. This is true in the original story, certainly, but the poverty here seems raw, brutal, undignified by lyric romance. Their pet goat dies an ignoble death on the road, and the kids’ mother (Erika Petrick in a powerful role) has the sunken eyes and hollow cheeks of near-starvation and suicidal depression. Despair seems tangible in this tale.
It’s good to see “Mother Holly” (Renee Strobrawa) as good neighbor Mrs. Kloper, and of course, our favorite villain from MOTHER HOLLY, “Black Peter”, (Werner Stock) plays Michel, the artist.
As engaging as the whole film is, the highlight of the piece is undoubtedly the bizarre dream sequence Hansel & Gretel share on their night in the woods. Michel’s creepy dolls come to life, and “Good King Appetite” and his court have drink, feast, dance and sing in a party which verges at moments on the orgiastic.
Even better, this Dionysian romp is enacted by the oddest assortment of genuine dwarfs seen since Tod Browning’s FREAKS. This gang of little people make the Munchkins look WASPy!
Just as we are recovering from the creepy dream, we meet the Witch, a terribly grotesque creature who is twice as mean and rude as that in any other filmed version of this oft-filmed tale. Her misanthropy borders on true dementia, and her treatment of H & G is twisted, to say the least.
It’s difficult to tell, as the original cut of this film may be lost, but in the extant version at least, Genschow condenses the imprisonment of the children by the witch to a very efficient, brisk sequence, which nonetheless works well and conveys the sense of dread, hope and redemption that longer versions also depict in greater, often unneeded detail.
The outdoor setting of the Witch’s abode is quite fanciful, and the Gingerbread children, the outdoor oven (which looks more like a giant kiln) and the house itself are all excellent examples of ingenuous low-budget production design.
In short, Genschow here has managed to take all the fairy tale symbols and icons and condense them into a powerful, bubbling cinematic stew, making a short film which really feels like a full-length feature, in the best sense of the experience.
The dubbed version is excellent as well, and features narration and voices from the familiar Paul Nagel. There are also several catchy and lively songs, featuring some of Murray’s best translated lyrics.
Fritz Genschow’s HANSEL & GRETEL is striking, beautiful, unnerving, one might say even haunting, and weaves a compelling, dreamlike logic throughout. It is by far the best of the German fairy tales released by Murray, and is likely Genschow’s masterpiece.
* We recently acquired the English-Language version of this rare film (on ebay, of all places), and it is indeed the short, 38-minute version that has been released on Germany on home video. Simultaneously, we came upon a pressbook for a Murray anthology feature called SANTA’S GIANT FILM FESTIVAL OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM (1969). We originally thought that this was a retitling of another Murray anthology feature, SANTA’S FANTASY FAIR (1969). However, a comparison of promotional material suggests that the two films are different. The most conspicuous difference between the two is that SANTA’S GIANT FILM FESTIVAL… lists “Hansel & Gretel” as one of the stories. So, this 38-minute mini-feature first made its debut in the anthology feature in 1969.
However, we also have uncovered a very strange and obscure poster, (see below), for a double feature of HANSEL & GRETEL plus THE SNOWMAN (1974). At first glance, one sees that the artwork for HANSEL & GRETEL is a black and white reproduction of the ads from the 1965 Childhood Productions release of the 1954 Schonger Films version (with all references to Childhood Productions carefully deleted). In addition, THE SNOWMAN is a one-reel Russian cartoon which was originally licensed in the U.S. by Orrin Enterprises, and was later bought by Murray, according to Jeffrey C. Hogue.
So, this 1974 double feature may actually be a Murray release of his short HANSEL AND GRETEL feature, along with the ten-minute cartoon THE SNOWMAN, making the whole double bill approximately 50 minutes! This information has not been verified, so it is only speculation at present.
* There appear to be at least two different versions of HANSEL & GRETEL. The shorter version, 38 minutes, has been re-released on PAL video in Germany, and is indeed the version Murray released in the U.S.. An 87-minute version, however, also supposedly exists. Regarding the film’s mysterious history, here is some rather shocking information from Mike Schneider in Germany:
“The current (German PAL) video version runs 38 minutes. Originally, the film lasted 87 minutes. The color fairy tale originally was released with a black and white framing device, featuring two kids named ‘Hans’ and ‘Greta’ and their dear stepmother (Rita Nowotny).”
“However, ‘the Americans’ (K. Gordon Murray!) wanted only the fairy tale, without the framing sequences. Director Fritz Genschow sent the original negative to Murray. It was lost, and has not emerged to this day! The current video version is taken from the only existing internegative!”
another fabulous German children’s film dubbed in English! this special edition has been restored, a big improvement over the crummy VHS tapes of the past. DVD-R comes packaged as shown in color DVD case wrapped in plastic!