The Tin Drum (film)

The Tin Drum (German: Die Blechtrommel) is a 1979 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Günter Grass. It was directed and co-written by Volker Schlöndorff. It was mostly shot in West Germany.

The Tin Drum
Original film poster
Directed byVolker Schlöndorff
Produced byFranz Seitz
Anatole Dauman
Written byVolker Schlöndorff
Jean-Claude Carrière
Franz Seitz
Based onThe Tin Drum
by Günter Grass
StarringDavid Bennent
Mario Adorf
Angela Winkler
Daniel Olbrychski
Katharina Thalbach
Charles Aznavour
Music byMaurice Jarre
CinematographyIgor Luther
Edited bySuzanne Baron
Jadran Film
Franz Seitz Filmproduktion
Distributed byUnited Artists (West Germany)
New World Pictures (US)
Release date
  • 3 May 1979 (1979-05-03) (Wiesbaden)
  • 19 September 1979 (1979-09-19) (France)
Running time
142 minutes
162 minutes (Director's cut)
CountryWest Germany
Box office$13 million (Germany - 25 million Marks)[1]
$2 million (US)[2]

The film won the Palme d'Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1980 at the 52nd Academy Awards.


In 1899, Joseph Kolaizcek, the grandfather of Oskar Matzerath, the main character, is being pursued by the police through rural Kashubia (located in modern-day Poland). He hides underneath the skirts of a young woman named Anna Bronski. He has sex with her and she tries to hide her emotions, as the troops pass close by. She later gives birth to their daughter, who is Oskar's mother. Joseph evades the authorities for a year, but when they find him again, he either drowns or escapes to America and becomes a millionaire.

Anna's daughter Agnes has two lovers: her cousin Jan Bronski, a Polish Post Office worker, and Alfred Matzerath, a chef whom she marries. The two men are great friends. Agnes gives birth to a son, Oskar. Oskar's parentage is uncertain; Oskar himself believes he is Jan's son.

In 1927, on Oskar's third birthday, he is given a tin drum. Reflecting on the antics of his drunken parents and friends, he decides to stop growing and throws himself down the cellar stairs. From that day on, he does not grow at all. Oskar discovers that he can shatter glass with his voice, an ability he often uses whenever he is upset. Oskar's drumming also causes the members of a Nazi rally to start dancing. During a visit to the circus, Oskar befriends Bebra, a performing dwarf who chose to stop growing at age 10.

When Alfred, Agnes, Jan and Oskar are on an outing to the beach, they see an eel-picker collecting eels from a horse's head used as bait. The sight makes Agnes vomit repeatedly. Alfred buys some of the eels and prepares them for dinner that night. When he insists that Agnes eat them, she becomes distraught and retreats to the bedroom. Jan enters and comforts her, all within earshot of Oskar who is hiding in the closet. She calmly returns to the dinner table and eats the eels. Over the next few days, she binges on fish. Anna Bronski helps reveal that Agnes is worried her pregnancy is due to her relations with Jan. In anger, Agnes vows that the child will never be born. She dies, though the cause is never revealed. At the funeral, Oskar encounters Sigismund Markus, the kindly Jewish toy seller who supplies him with replacement drums, and who was also in love with Agnes. Markus is ordered by two of the mourners to leave because he is Jewish; Nazism is on the rise, and the Jewish and Polish residents of Danzig are under increasing pressure. Markus later commits suicide after his shop is vandalized and a synagogue is burned down by SA men.

On 1 September 1939, Oskar and Jan go looking for Kobyella, who can repair his drum. Jan slips into the Polish Post Office, despite a Nazi cordon, and participates in an armed standoff against the Nazis. During the ensuing battle, Kobyella is fatally shot and Jan is wounded. They play Skat until Kobyella dies and the Germans capture the building. Oskar is taken home, while Jan is arrested and later executed.

Alfred hires sixteen-year-old Maria to work in his shop. Oskar seduces Maria, but later discovers Alfred having sex with her. Oskar bursts into the room, makes Alfred ejaculate inside her (when he was expected to pull out, to avoid getting her pregnant), causing Maria to become angry at Alfred when he blames Oskar for the inadvertent insemination.

While rinsing her vagina in an attempt to remove the deposited semen, she and Oskar fight, and he hits her in the groin. She later gives birth to a son, who Oskar is convinced is his. Oskar also has a brief sexual relationship with Lina Greff, the wife of the local grocer and scoutmaster. It is implied that Lina was sexually frustrated as her husband preferred to spend more time with the Hitler Youth boys. Lina's husband later commits suicide (or is executed) after an official from the Nazi regime catches him 'playing' with those boys.

During World War II, Oskar meets Bebra and Roswitha, another dwarf performer in Bebra's successful troupe. Oskar decides to join them, using his glass-shattering voice as part of the act. Oskar and Roswitha have an affair, but she is killed by artillery fire during the Allied invasion of Normandy while on tour. Roswitha speaks Italian, and it is heavily implied that she represents Italy which was the ally of Nazi Germany.

Oskar returns home. Much of the city has been destroyed and the Russians are fast approaching. Oskar gives Maria's three-year-old son Kurt a tin drum like his own. The Russians break into the cellar where the family is hiding. Some of them gang-rape Lina. Alfred is killed by a soldier after swallowing and choking violently on his Nazi party pin, apparently betrayed by Oskar.

During Alfred's burial, Oskar decides to grow up, and throws his drum into the grave. As he does, Kurt throws a stone at his head and he falls into the grave. Afterward, an attendee announces Oskar is growing again. The family, apart from Anna Bronski, leave for the West.



The film was mostly shot in West Germany including at the Spandau Studios, with some street scenes, particularly ones concerning the landmarks of Danzig, shot in Gdańsk. The Polish communist authorities gave the crew little time in Poland since the novel itself had been banned in Eastern Bloc countries. The scenes with the Polish Post Office were shot in Zagreb, Croatia, as were several generic street scenes. The scenes in France were shot on-set. Schlöndorff was authorised by Grass himself during much of the preproduction and the writing of the script. David Bennent was chosen as the role of Oskar when Schlöndorff was discussing with a doctor the possibility of a child whose growth stops at an early age, and the doctor brought up the case of the son of the actor Heinz Bennent, whom Schlöndorff was friends with. During the filming several difficulties arose: there was a supposed love affair between Daniel Olbrychski and Angela Winkler, and a romantic rivalry between Fritz Hakl, who played Bebra, and the fiancé of Mariella Oliveri, who played Roswitha. While filming in Poland, a production assistant was arrested by the authorities when trying to buy eels from fishing boats for the beach scene, accused of attempting to sabotage the national industries.[3]


The Tin Drum was one of the most financially successful German films of the 1970s taking 25 million marks at the German box office.[1] New World Pictures paid $400,000 for the US rights.[2]

The film presently holds a score of 81% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 21 reviews, with an average grade of 7.34/10.[4]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film two stars (out of four), writing "I must confess that the symbolism of the drum failed to involve me":

And here we are at the central problem of the movie: Should I, as a member of the audience, decide to take the drum as, say, a child's toy protest against the marching cadences of the German armies? Or should I allow myself to be annoyed by the child's obnoxious habit of banging on it whenever something's not to his liking? Even if I buy the wretched drum as a Moral Symbol, I'm still stuck with the kid as a pious little bastard.[5]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times called it "a seriously responsible adaptation of a gargantuan novel, but it's an adaptation that has no real life of its own. There are a number of things seen or said on the screen that, I suspect, will not make much sense to anyone who isn't familiar with the novel ... However, because the story it tells is so outsized, bizarre, funny and eccentric, the movie compels attention."[6] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film a full four out of four stars and called it "quite shattering" with "one striking image after another."[7] Charles Champlin of The Los Angeles Times declared that it was "like few films since 'Citizen Kane'—a combination of stunning logistics and technique and of humanistic content that is terrifically affecting."[8] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote that it "will be hard to beat as the season's most prestigious bad idea for a movie," stating that Oskar "doesn't have a personality forceful enough to unify the rambling continuity or replace the narrative voice and complex of meanings that gave the book intellectual vitality and authority."[9]


At the 1979 Cannes Film Festival, it was jointly awarded the Palme d'Or, along with Apocalypse Now.[10] The Tin Drum was the first film directed by a German to win the Palme d'Or.[11] In 1980, it became the first film from Germany or in German to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.[11][12]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards 14 April 1980 Best Foreign Language Film Volker Schlöndorff Won [13]
Bodil Awards 1980 Best European Film Won [14]
Cannes Film Festival 10 – 24 May 1979 Palme d'Or Won [15]
César Awards 2 February 1980 Best Foreign Film Nominated [16]
German Film Awards 8 June 1979 Best Film Won [17]
Best Direction Nominated
Best Actor Mario Adorf Nominated
Best Actress Angela Winkler Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Katharina Thalbach Nominated
Goldene Leinwand 19 January 1980 Goldene Leinwand Volker Schlöndorff Won [18]
Los Angeles Film Critics Association 20 December 1980 Best Foreign Language Film Won [19]
National Board of Review 26 January 1981 Best Foreign Language Film Won [20]
Top Foreign Films Won


The film features scenes in which Bennent, then 11 years of age and playing a stunted 16-year-old, licks effervescing sherbet powder from the navel of a 16-year-old girl, played by Katharina Thalbach. Thalbach was 24 years old at the time. Subsequently, Bennent appears to have oral sex and then intercourse with her.

In 1980, the film version of The Tin Drum was first cut, and then banned as child pornography by the Ontario Censor Board in Canada.[21] Similarly, on June 25, 1997, following a ruling made by State District Court Judge Richard Freeman, who had reportedly only viewed a single isolated scene of the film, The Tin Drum was banned from Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, citing the state's obscenity laws for portraying underage sexuality. All copies in Oklahoma City were likewise confiscated and at least one person who had rented the film on video tape was threatened with prosecution. Michael Camfield, at the time a member of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit against the police department on July 4, 1997, alleging that the tape had been illegally confiscated and his rights infringed.[22][23]

This led to a high-profile series of hearings on the film's merits as a whole versus the controversial scenes, and the role of the judge as censor. The film emerged vindicated and most copies were returned within a few months.[24][25] By 2001, all the cases had been settled and the film is legally available in Oklahoma County. This incident was covered in the documentary film Banned in Oklahoma, which is included in the 2004 Criterion Collection DVD release of The Tin Drum.[26]

See also


  1. Gould, Hazel (January 9, 1980). "1979 total for 'The Tin Drum' More Than All '78 German Pix". Variety. p. 12.
  2. Roger Corman & Jim Jerome, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, Muller, 1990 p 191
  3. DVD commentary by Volker Schlörndorff [concerns entire section]
  4. "The Tin Drum". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
  5. Ebert, Roger (Jun 27, 1980). "The Tin Drum". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  6. Canby, Vincent (April 11, 1980). "'Tin Drum, 'From Grass's Epic Tale". The New York Times. C6.
  7. Siskel, Gene (June 27, 1980). "Rich images snare interest in 'Drum'". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 3.
  8. Champlin, Charles (April 18, 1980). "'Tin Drum'—Century of Horror, Hilarity". Los Angeles Times. Part VI, p. 1.
  9. Arnold, Gary (April 25, 1980). "A Sadly Different 'Drum'". The Washington Post. C1, C7.
  10. Julia Knight (2004). New German Cinema: Images of a Generation. Wallflower Press. p. 26.
  11. J. David Riva; Guy Stern (2006). A Woman at War: Marlene Dietrich Remembered. Wayne State University Press. p. 21. ISBN 0814332498.
  12. Robert Charles Reimer; Carol J. Reimer (2012). Historical Dictionary of Holocaust Cinema. Scarecrow Press. p. xx. ISBN 0810867567.
  13. "The 52nd Academy Awards (1980) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2013-06-08.
  14. "Ikke-amerikanske film". Bodil Awards. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  15. "DIE BLECHTROMMEL". Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  16. "Prix et nominations : César 1980". AlloCiné. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  17. "Deutscher Filmpreis, 1979". German Film Awards. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  18. "Die Blechtrommel". Goldene Leinwand. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  19. "6TH ANNUAL LOS ANGELES FILM CRITICS ASSOCIATION AWARDS". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  20. "1980 Award Winners". National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. 2016. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  21. "The Current: Whole Show Blow-by-Blow". CBC Radio. 2004-04-19. Archived from the original on August 7, 2004.
  22. "The "Tin Drum" Controversy - Nonfiction by Daryl Lease". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  23. "248 F3d 1214 Michael Camfield v. City of Oklahoma City Britt High Se Kim Bill Citty Gregory a Taylor Matt French Robert Macy Sam Gonzales - OpenJurist". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  24. PUBLIB:3847 "Tin Drum" seized as obscene in Oklahoma (fwd) Archived 2007-03-11 at the Wayback Machine., July 21, 1997.
  25. A Fiasco in the Making Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine.
  26. Trivia for Banned in Oklahoma. Internet Movie Database.

This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.