The “Professor Mamlock” has a pedigree that’s almost as interesting as the story itself.
The screenplay got its start as a theater performance written by Friedrich Wolf in 1933. The central character is a Jewish physician named Hans Mamlock and his experiences after Hitler’s regime takes over. It’s one of the earliest works about Nazi anti-Semitism. (In his writings, Wolf says that he wrote the play for middle-class intellectuals, and that he blamed the Nazis’ ability to rise to power on the a-political apathy of so many.)
In 1938, the story was adapted to the screen and directed by Adolf Minkin and Herbert Rappaport and filmed in the Soviet Union, with Semyon Mezhinsky in the title role.
A radio play based on the original play first was broadcast in 1945. Then in 1961, the original author's son Konrad Wolf directed a second movie based on the play. In the early 1960s, an opera by the same name was written.
I found the background of the story interesting because it has been told in so many versions over the years. That’s probably because it has a timeless, multi-tiered message about politics, family and trust in authority.
The Jewish Dr. Mamlock (Mezhinsky) is the well-respected chief of staff at a university hospital in 1933.
Over and over, we hear the physician chide others, including his own son, for their interest and participation in politics. Mamlock prefers to concentrate on the well being of his patients and research that he can use in the future. He has no interest in the growing strength of the Nazi party, and presumes that nothing horrific will be allowed to occur in his cultured city.
When his son, Rolf (Oleg Zhakov), insists on joining the communist resistance against the Nazis, Mamlock throws the young man out of his house. Meanwhile, at the hospital, he pays no attention to the anti-Semitic views of his colleague Dr. Hellpach (Vladimir Chestnokov), even though it’s obvious that Mamlock is a focus of Hellpach’s not-so-understated disrespect.
As time goes by, the Nazi grip on Mamlock’s city becomes stronger, and anti-Jewish racial laws declare that Mamlock no longer can remain in his position as chief of staff.
Eventually, Mamlock, still hoping for the best despite the turmoil and terror around him, is led through the streets in humiliation and his German citizenship is revoked. But the worst is yet to come.
This is a well-written character study about taking a stand before it’s too late. The black-and-white cinematography is beautiful, the acting enjoyable and the characters memorable, especially Hellpach as the manipulative villain.
Maybe, with Hollywood embracing seemingly every “reboot” possible, there might a chance for an update to a story that continues to withstand the test of time.