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Das Zaubermännchen (Rumpelstiltskin)

1959, color, 73 min. Children's
Dir.: Christoph Engel, Erwin Anders
Script: Gudrun Rammler, Margot Beichler, Christoph Engel
Camera: Erwin Anders
Music: Wolfgang Pietsch
Karl-Heinz Rothin (Miller Kunz), Karin Lesch (Marie), Reinhard Michalke (Hans the Miller's Helper), Peter Dommisch (Simpleton Neighbor), Nikolaus Paryla (King), Bodo Mette (Treasurer), Siegfried Siebt (Rumpelstiltskin)
Based on the tale by the Brothers Grimm
VHS-PAL, no subtitles
VHS-NTSC, English subtitles:


Once upon a time, there was a lazy miller, who spent all his time drinking wine and telling lies.  When the king's treasurer demands payment of taxes, the miller lies that his daughter Marie can spin straw into gold.  The father and daughter are told to report to the palace, where Marie is locked into a tower room full of straw.  She is to spin all the straw into gold by the next morning.  Of course she does not know how to spin straw into gold, as she tries to explain, and, once left alone,  begins to cry.  At that moment a little man appears, who says he will spin the straw if Marie gives him something of value.  She agrees, gives him her necklace, and he fulfills his part of the bargain.  The next morning, the king finds the gold and is delighted.  The greedy treasurer makes Marie spin again.  Marie must spin three times, and each time the little man comes to the rescue.  On the third day, however, she has nothing left to give him, and promises him her first-born child.  The little man spins all the straw into gold, and the next morning the king marries Marie.

The second part of the tale begins when Marie's child is a year old.  The little man returns, demanding his payment.  But because he likes Marie and sees that she is kind-hearted, he gives her one chance to save her child:  she must guess his name in three days.  In the DEFA version, Marie enlists the help of her husband and the entire kingdom, as well as her father and her friend Hans, to discover the little man's name.  It is her faithful friend Hans who happens upon the little man in the woods, and saves the day.

DEFA's Das Zaubermännchen differs from the Grimms version in that it broadens the cast of characters from the miller, his daughter, the king, and Rumpelstiltskin, to include many more minor characters, as well as a kingdom of extras.  These new figures act as go-betweens and create a more complicated system of transgressors than the traditional division between good and evil.  Das Zaubermännchen makes the distinction between hard-working Hans and the lazy Miller, as well as the treasurer who craves gold and Rumpelstiltskin who craves things of emotional (rather than monetary) value.  This version also allows for character growth and development;  the King learns to treasure his family above his riches, and Marie learns to assert herself in times of stress. 

The most telling difference between the Grimm Brothers and DEFA, however, is the newly-sympathetic portrayal of Rumpelstiltskin himself.  He is no longer a strange and devious creature who desires a human child for an undisclosed reason.  Rather, he wants to save the child from the corruption of money.  Indeed, money is the bad guy in the DEFA version, and all those who are deemed "good" in the end must be those who value money less than family, friends, and the welfare of those in the kingdom. 

Also available for purchase:  the Rumpelstiltskin teaching guide!

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Jessica Hale