The Kaiser's Lackey

(Der Untertan)

GDR, 1951, 105 min, b&w
In German; English subtitles
Set Design
Costume Design
Music (Score)


This historical satire, based on Heinrich Mann’s world-famous novel, Der Untertan, is ranked by film critics among the 100 Most Significant German Films of all time. In Mann's biting critique of conservative Wilhelmine Germany, written during WWI, Diederich Hessling learns an important lesson for an ambitious man: one must first serve power to gain power for oneself. From then on, his modus operandi is to bow to superiors and kick underlings.


1951 National Prize Class II for directing (Wolfgang Staudte)
1951 National Prize Class III for acting (Werner Peters)
1951 Prize for Fighting for Socialist Progress, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

Press comments

“One of the best films of all time!”
— Cinémathèque Royale, Brussels


“A stylistically dazzling adaptation of Mann's satirical novel.”
— Tate Modern, London


“A masterpiece. An exceptional film. An astonishing film satire, surprisingly current.”
— Ralf Schenk, film historian


“...explored the authoritarian, nationalistic, and sycophantic character of bourgeois citizens in imperial Germany.”
— Heide Fehrenbach, Cinema in Democratizing Germany


“Because of the film’s high-profile, Staudte was able to use stylized cinematic techniques that in a lesser production may have been critiqued as formalist, including Eisenstein- and Pudowkin-inspired montage sequences, extreme high and low camera angles that emphasize power differentials, as well as a voice-over commentary.”

—Reinhild Steingröver, Directory of World Cinema, Germany 2


Buy the DVDStream
DVD Bonus Features:
  • Biographies & Filmographies
  • Historical Timeline
  • "Interpreting The Kaiser's Lackey" (Dir. Michael Aronson, 2007)

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