The Threepenny Opera, Die 3 Groschen-Oper, is a 1931 musical film directed by G. W. Pabst for the Weimar Berlin based Nero-Film AG. It is loosely based on the highly successful musical drama of the same name by Kurt Weil and Bertolt Brecht that opened on 31 August 1928 at Berlin's Theater am Schiffbauerdamm.
The film is set in Victorian London, and focuses on the criminality and corruption of Macheath, Mackie Messer, or Mack the Knife, and his associates, including an old army comrade the chief of police, Tiger Brown. Macheath sees and quickly woos Polly Peachum, incurring the wrath of her powerful father, who outfits and trains the large army of beggars who populate the substrata of imperial London.
The original stage production was much more a scathing critique of financial capitalism than the film. Brecht broke with the Nero production when they refused to use his rewrites, which had become more sharply politicial.
In the film the street singer is played by Ernst Busch, who was an ardent socialist like Brecht, and become quite famous after the war with the Communists in East Germany. Kurt Weill was married to the singer, Lotta Lenya, who plays Jenny in both the play and the film, and found a successful career in the West after fleeing Germany.
By 1933, when Weill and Brecht were forced to leave Germany by the Nazi Party's Machtergreifung, or bloodless coup d'etat, the play had been translated into 18 languages and performed more than 10,000 times on European stages.
The original street singer was played by the actor Kurt Gerron, who rose to fame in his role opposite Marlene Dietrich in Der Blaue Engel. Gerron, who refused Weill's pleas to emigrate to the US because he was afraid of change, was executed by the Nazis after helping to produce an infamous propaganda film at the concentration camp at Theresienstadt.