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THE ROARING FIFTIES [Die Wilden Fünfziger] (1983; Just For the Hell of It).

Featuring an immense cast, broad performances and stridently hysterical tone, this sprawling satire of the rich and powerful -- set during the German Wirtschaftswunder ("Economic Miracle"), an era of massive economic growth and prosperity, spanning the post-war 1940s into the '60s -- is a stupendously indulgent vision from director Peter Zadek, one of Germany's most acclaimed and controversial theatre directors. Born to Jewish parents, Zadek immigrated to England in 1933 and, Oxford educated, returned to Germany in the '50s, where he cemented his enfant terrible reputation with anti-elitist, avant-garde interpretations of Ibsen, Chekhov, Pinter, and Ionesco; a gender-swapped "Hamlet"; barring Jean Genet from his 1957 London staging of "The Balcony"; plus Joshua Sobol's "Ghetto", a Holocaust true story transformed into musical-cabaret. In the early-1970s, Zadek invited Rainer Werner Fassbinder to stage two productions at his Bochum theatre, with this film dedicated to Fassbinder, who originally conceived the project and died a year earlier. No surprise, Zadek continued to piss off people with this film. Adapted from Johannes Mario Simmel's best-selling 1978 novel Hurra, Wir Leben Noch [Hurray, We're Still Alive], the popular Austrian author threatened legal action if the movie's title wasn't changed, since so little of his original work remained, plus scriptwriter Robert Muller withdrew his name after seeing a rough cut, preferring the pseudonym 'Wolfgang Bornheim' instead... As German multi-millionaire businessman Jakob Fuhrmann (Juraj Kukura) lays dying following a freak auto accident, flashbacks reveal how this opportunist took advantage of any potential money-making situation -- working as a post-World War II translator and swiping a plane full of eggs from the bumbling US military, managing an Allied Forces chicken farm in Munich, linking up with shifty importers, cutting deals with socialist politicians and ex-Hitler hold-overs, recruiting intellectuals to create a top-selling magazine, monopolizing the German plastics industry, and even building pre-fab houses in Siberia. Fuhrmann is driven as much by his libido as his greed, so there's loads of sex and nudity throughout, handled with all the subtlety of a PORKY'S sequel, as he screws secretaries, writers, prostitutes, and becomes oddly obsessed with a sexual act known as the "Chinese Sleigh Ride." Zadek also tosses in randomly bizarre episodes, like when a brawl erupts between Fuhrmann and his old girlfriend's fiancé (Udo Kier!) in the midst of a funeral, ending with the two men wrestling in an open grave. Basically, just imagine if CITIZEN KANE had been remade by Golan-Globus! This ambitious, utterly daft production looks incredible, due to cinematographer Jost Vacano (DAS BOOT, TOTAL RECALL), but is breathtakingly wrongheaded in every other way (this print's English dubbing doesn't help matters). A hodgepodge of gross stereotypes (Americans are particularly boorish and stupid) and barely-fleshed-out supporting characters popping in and out of Fuhrmann's life, the cast includes such Fassbinder luminaries as Ingrid Caven, Margit Carstensen, Brigitte Mira, and Burkhard Driest, as well as Eva Mattes (who later starred in Zadek's stage production of "Antony and Cleopatra", and also played a fictionalized Fassbinder in A MAN LIKE EVA) and Peter Kern (Hans-Jürgen Syberberg's HITLER: A FILM FROM GERMANY) as shady contacts, Golden Globe winner Christine Kaufmann as Fuhrmann's nagging bride, and million-selling Austrian singer Freddy Quinn as a US General.

© 2018 by Steven Puchalski.