The Captain von Köpenick (1956)

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Original title The captain of Koepenick
The Captain von Köpenick 1956 Logo 001.svg
Country of production Germany
original language German
Publishing year 1956
length 93 minutes
Age rating FSK 12
Director Helmut Käutner
script Carl Zuckmayer
Helmut Käutner
production Gyula Trebitsch
music Bernhard Eichhorn
camera Albert Benitz
cut Klaus Dudenhöfer

The Captain von Köpenick is a German color film based on the play of the same name by Carl Zuckmayer about the " Captain von Köpenick ". It is the second film adaptation of Zuckmayer's play after the 1931 film of the same name made by Richard Oswald .


The plot is based on Zuckmayer's well-known drama : It tells the story of the criminal Wilhelm Voigt who became world-famous through his brilliant coup in October 1906 . It takes this coup as an occasion for a critical portrayal of militarism and the spirit of submission in the German Empire . The prehistory of the incident told in drama and film is, however, largely fiction .

After 15 years in prison, to which he had been sentenced for various frauds, the shoemaker Wilhelm Voigt is released from the Berlin-Plötzensee prison. He intends to become an honest person, but wherever he applies he is asked about his past life, starting with the words, “Have you served?”. Without a residence permit in the respective district, he will not receive any work, without work no residence permit. He is also refused the passport required for temporary work abroad. Therefore, he breaks into a Potsdam police station to issue himself an official passport, is caught and sentenced to ten years in prison in Sonnenburg .

In the prison library he discovered the Prussian field service regulations and learned them by heart. In addition, the prison director trains his prisoners in military behavior. After his release from prison, Voigt initially stayed with his sister and her husband and devotedly takes care of a girl suffering from tuberculosis who lives in a room with his sister as a subtenant. But when his rehabilitation fails again because of the bureaucracy, he plans his next coup. He buys a used captain's uniform from a second-hand dealer . After he has put them on, he suddenly appears as a different person, because everyone shows the uniformed captain the greatest respect. Voigt uses this authority to occupy the town hall of Köpenick with some soldiers found on the street and to arrest the mayor. To his great disappointment, he learns that it is not possible to obtain a pass from the Köpenick town hall, and so he confiscates the city treasury.

A few days later, in the midst of the tremendous commotion and the feverish search for the perpetrator, Voigt opposed the promise of a passport to the Berlin police. Then he tells the whole story in front of the police chief, amused by everyone present. Voigt is condemned again, but this time pardoned by the emperor. When he received the promised passport, he said that he had “looked over” it and no longer needed it, since he was now the famous “Captain of Köpenick”.


It was only at the urging of the director and screenwriter Helmut Käutner (who had already used the material in a radio play produced in 1945 ) that Heinz Rühmann was given the title role. Because the producers Walter Koppel and Gyula Trebitsch , both Jewish victims of Nazi persecution, raised considerable reservations about Rühmann because he was burdened by his work and popularity during the Nazi era . Alternatives for the title role were Curd Jürgens or Hans Albers .

The film was produced in Eastmancolor by Real-Film in the Real-Filmstudios in Hamburg and premiered on August 16, 1956 in the Ufa-Palast in Cologne .

Since it was not possible to shoot at the original locations in East Berlin, the few outdoor shots were made in Hamburg. For example, the tax office on Schlump in the Eimsbüttel district served as Köpenick's town hall . The front of the Altona town hall became the train station, where Rühmann disguised himself as a captain.

As in the 1931 film adaptation, Ilse Fürstenberg played the sister Marie Hoprecht. Leonard Steckel portrayed the junk dealer Krakauer in the 1931 film and played Adolph Wormser in the 1956 film.

For some time now there has been a short additional sequence in television broadcasts of the restored version of the film that has been adapted in terms of format, which has not yet found its way to a home cinema format (the original, unrestored version can be seen there to date). This is located in the recruiting scene of the two military units and shows an additional shot of the private repeating the order of the "captain" Rühmann. The shot following the order, which shows the formation of the troops for the march, was extended. However, two scenes that were also missing in the unrestored version were not inserted. This concerns on the one hand a variety dance performance by the director Helmut Käutner, which can be seen in the original cinema trailer, and on the other hand the original final shot of the film, in which Wilhelm Voigt's captain's uniform can be seen on a scarecrow.

Director Helmut Käutner has another cameo as a street singer.


The film became a huge audience success with ten million viewers in the first five months. It was exported to 53 countries and received numerous prizes, including the German Film Prize on June 21, 1957 . The Hauptmann von Köpenick was the first German post-war success in the USA and was nominated for the Oscar, which was awarded for the first time in 1957, in the category “ Best Foreign Language Film ”.

The film was essential for Rühmann's comeback as an actor after the war. Until then, in the post-war period, Rühmann had played more of the theater or was involved in less important films.



Carl Zuckmayer's story of the previously convicted shoemaker Wilhelm Voigt, who in the uniform of a captain tries to defy the bureaucratic obstacles to obtaining a passport, in a human-comedic film version tailored to the main actor. But the film adaptation by Richard Oswald in 1931 was better. "

- Heyne Film Lexicon 1996

How he stumbles uncertainly through the wrong world order, how he surrenders and first quiets and then becomes cocky out of desperation - that is the great moment in the career of this actor. Rühmann doesn't fax. It's tragicomic in the best sense of the word. He is always there, not only gives his face and voice, he plays completely, right down to the feet. "

- The evening Sep. 1956

You look at Rühmann closely, eye to eye, so to speak, and you won't think for a moment of the breakaway pilot Quax, you think of Grock, Chaplin, Charlie Rivel. "

- The world Aug. 18, 1956

It is the star role for the comedian Heinz Rühmann, who has already been declared dead, his best interpretation in years. "

- Neue Ruhr-Zeitung August 17, 1956

Splendid irony of the omnipotence of the Prussian uniform. One of the most successful German film comedies. Worth seeing. "

- Handbook V of the Catholic film criticism : 3rd edition, Verlag Haus Altenberg, Düsseldorf 1963, p. 178

An excellently played tragic comedy, brightened up by comical moments and warm humor, dense in terms of milieu drawing and atmosphere. A satirical lesson about the omnipotence of the uniform in Prussia, which takes a worldview ad absurdum. "


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b German Film Award (1957)
  2. a b Academy Awards Database  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (29th Oscars, 1956)@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /