Michael Kohlhass


'MICHAEL KOHLHAAS' Kohlhaas, at the Thalia
Published: June 20, 1980, Friday

''MICHAEL KOHLHAAS," which opens today at the Thalia Theater on a double-bill with Ted Post's "The Baby" (see separate review), is an early (1969) film by Volker Schlondorff, who directed this year's Oscar-winning screen version of Gunter Grass's "The Tin Drum." Of the German directors now receiving so much acclaim, Mr. Schlondorff is the least diosyncratic, which may be why he so willingly and often so successfully adapts other people's works, including Heinrich Boll's "The Lost Honor of Kathrina Blum." He bends his talent to the demands of others.
"Michael Kohlhaas" is a handsome, straightforward adaption of the 1810 novella written by Heinrich von Kleist ("The Marquise of O"), about a rigorously honest man named Michael Kohlhaas (David Warner), a successful horse dealer who, when the courts refuse to uphold his claim against a rich landowner, takes the law into his own hands. The setting is a small German principality and the time the mid-16th century.
In his pursuit of the landowner, the single-minded Kohlhaas gathers together a small armed band that first burns down the landowner's castle, sacks one city and eventually threatens the entire country. Thus Kohlhaas, first seen as the unquestioning recipient of God's favor, suddenly becomes a bandit, operating outside the laws he once invoked and which will eventually doom him.
Mr. Schlondorff honors Kleist's peculiarly romantic pessimism with a production that has the purity of the prose of an austere fable. The landscapes are beautiful without being picturesque; the battle scenes brisk, violent and, as if by magic, not very bloody. Mr. Warner, whose most recent appearances have been only slightly less ridiculous than the films that contain them, gives a fine performance that is stylized but devoid of mannerisms. The beautiful Anna Karina, who was just ending her long association with Jean-Luc Godard at the time the film was made, is sweetly affecting as Kohlhaas's wife, whom the gods also destroy.
The dubbing in this English-language version is not always first-rate, but it's nice to know that Mr. Warner and the other English-speaking actors are, at least, accompanied by their own voices.

A 16th-Century Tale

MICHAEL KOHLHASS, directed by Volker Schlondorff; screenplay by Edward Bond, Clement BiddleWood and Mr. Schlondorff, based on the novella by Heinrich von Kleist; photography by Willy Kurant; edited by Claus von Boro; produced by Jerry Bick; distributed by Columbia Pictures. At the Thalia, 250 West 95th Street. Running time: 95 minutes. This film is not rated.

Michael Kohlhaas . . . . . David Warner
Elisabeth . . . . . Ana Karina
Nagel . . . . . Relia Basic
Katrina . . . . . Anita Pallenerg
Junker von Tronka . . . . . Inigo Jackson
John . . . . . Michael Gothard
Elector . . . . . Anton Diffring
Peter . . . . . Anthony May
Tony . . . . . Tim Ray
Stern . . . . . Iwan Palluch
The Chancellor . . . . . Kurt Meisel
Herse . . . . . Vaciew Lohninsky
Steward . . . . . Emanuel Schmied
Martin Luther . . . . . Thomas Holtzman
Published: 06 - 20 - 1980 , Late Edition - Final , Section C , Column 3 , Page 12