Erich Engel

Erich Engel (14 February 1891 – 10 May 1966) was a German film and theatre director.[1]


Engel was born in Hamburg, where later he studied at the School of Applied Arts. After finishing there he worked briefly as a journalist, then learnt acting at the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg, after which he spent several years with a touring theatre company.

In 1917 and 1918 Engel was the dramaturgist in the Deutsches Schauspielhaus, and later in the Hamburger Kammerspiele. After a short engagement with the Bayerische Staatstheater in Munich he moved in 1924 to Berlin. At the Deutsche Theater he produced, among other pieces, Bertolt Brecht's Im Dickicht der Städte and soon became one of the foremost interpreters of Brecht's works on the German stage.

His breakthrough came with Brecht's Dreigroschenoper, the premiere of which he produced, opening on 31 August 1928 in the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, Berlin.

In 1930 Engel also began directing films, but in order to avoid being commissioned to make propaganda films for the National Socialists he concentrated on comedies, characterised by their irony and wit. Among the principal actors in his early films were Jenny Jugo in Fünf von der Jazzband (1932), Gustav Waldau in Unser Fräulein Doktor (1940) and Otto Gebühr in Viel Lärm um Nixi (1942). In this period he worked closely with Theo Mackeben as composer and musical director. He was also engaged as theatrical director at the Berliner Deutsche Theater.

In Vienna in 1935 he produced the film ... nur ein Komödiant, with Rudolf Forster in a double role. Set in the 18th century, this film was opposed to militarism and authoritarianism, as is recognisable inter alia in the scene when a military officer refuses an order to fire indiscriminately on a crowd of rebellious peasants. Probably because of the film's period setting, which seems to have veiled its political stance, it was passed by both the Austrian and the German censors.

During the National Socialist period Engel made numerous films for UFA. After World War II he became the director of the Münchner Kammerspiele, but from 1949 lived and worked in the DDR. Among other pieces he directed for DEFA in 1948 the film Affäre Blum and in 1951 Kommen Sie am Ersten with Inge Meysel.

Later films that he made for DEFA included Geschwader Fledermaus (1958), in which he opposed the French colonial war in Vietnam. For his many DEFA productions he received the Nationalpreis der DDR. However, he also directed in West Germany for Artur Brauner.

As senior director in Brecht's Berliner Ensemble Engel returned to the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, where after the death of Brecht he directed the premiere in 1957 of the Leben des Galilei with the choreographer Jean Soubeyran.

He died in Berlin in 1966 and is buried in the Dorotheenstadt burial ground near the graves of Bertolt Brecht and Heinrich Mann.

Thomas Engel

His son Thomas Engel (born 18 April 1922) is also a director (for among others the ARD, for whom he produced the television series Tatort) and screenplay writer. Father and son co-directed the film Anna Louise and Anton (1953).

Selected filmography


  1. He is often confused with another German film director called Erich Engels, who specialised in comedy and crime films.
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