Emil and the Detectives

If you’re not familiar with the title, then you don’t know that this is one of Germany’s most famous Children’s novels in history, one that launched the Kid Detective Genre all over the globe. It’s also author Erich Kästner‘s best-known work, one that has been adapted into film several times. You probably also don’t know that the first (and by far, best) version is this one- a gorgeous, 1931 German adaptation written by Billy Wilder, who went on to become one of Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers, all thanks to the success of this little movie.

If all of that isn’t enough to get you to watch a black-and-white, pre-Nazi German flick, let me tell you about a certain 9 year old who was equally skeptical: Black and White? IN GERMAN??? And yet, by the film’s end, she was a fan, won over by director Gerhard Lamprecht’s wonderful storytelling skills that suck you into a gorgeous Berlin of yesteryear and its timeless streets. He treats the kids with dignity and respect, avoiding the condescending lens that usually accompanies children’s movies, putting you front-and-center of their vibrant world.

The story- about young Emil going on a manhunt to recover his stolen cash- manages to be suspenseful and fun at the same time; you never doubt that this is serious business, yet it’s always a fun ride. The acting is vibrant, the sequences are clever, and the insane, hallucinatory drug-trip scene we’re treated to is so edgy and out there that your brain won’t want to accept this thing was shot in 1931- but it was, and several movies have ripped it off since. Drug trips in a kids’ film? Oh yeah- this picture has it all.

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