The Tin Drum (film)

The Tin Drum

Original film poster
Directed by Volker Schlöndorff
Produced by Franz Seitz
Anatole Dauman
Written by Volker Schlöndorff
Jean-Claude Carrière
Franz Seitz
Based on The Tin Drum
by Günter Grass
Starring David Bennent
Mario Adorf
Angela Winkler
Daniel Olbrychski
Katharina Thalbach
Charles Aznavour
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Igor Luther
Edited by Suzanne Baron
Distributed by United Artists (West Germany)
New World Pictures (US)
Release dates
  • 3 May 1979 (1979-05-03) (Wiesbaden)
  • 19 September 1979 (1979-09-19) (France)
Running time
142 minutes
162 minutes (Director's cut)
Country West Germany
Language German
Box office $2 million (US)[1]

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. Stylistically, it is a surrealistic black comedy.

The film won the Palme d'Or at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival[2] and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1980 at the 52nd Academy Awards.[3]


In 1899, Joseph Kolaizcek, the grandfather of Oskar Matzerath, the main character, is being pursued by the police through rural Kashubia. He hides underneath the skirts of a young woman named Anna Bronski, with whom he later has a daughter – Oskar's mother. He 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, whom she marries. The two men are great friends. Agnes gives birth to a son, Oskar. Oskar's father is uncertain; Oskar himself believes he is Jan's son.

On Oskar's third birthday, he is given a tin drum. 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 meets Bebra, a performing dwarf to whom he can relate.

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 (Gdańsk) 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 busts into the room, causing Maria to become angry at Alfred. 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.

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.

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 an Asiatic 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, with some street scenes, particularly ones concerning the landmarks of Danzig, shot in Gdańsk. Soviet-Polish 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.[4]


The Tin Drum cinema showing, Heidelberg 1979

The Tin Drum was one of the most financially successful German films of the 1970s. It won the 1979 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was jointly awarded the 1979 Palme d'Or at 1979 Cannes Film Festival, along with Apocalypse Now.[5] It also won Best Foreign Language Film of the year by the U.S. National Board of Review.[6]

New World Pictures paid $400,000 for the US rights.[1]


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.[7] 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.[8][9]

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.[10][11] 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.[12]

See also


  1. 1 2 Roger Corman & Jim Jerome, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, Muller, 1990 p 191
  2. "Festival de Cannes: The Tin Drum". Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved 2009-05-24.
  3. "The 52nd Academy Awards (1980) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2013-06-08.
  4. DVD commentary by Volker Schlörndorff [concerns entire section]
  5. Julia Knight, New German Cinema: Images of a Generation, (Wallflower Press, 2004), P. 26
  6. "1980 Award Winners". National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. 2016. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  7. "The Current: Whole Show Blow-by-Blow". CBC Radio. 2004-04-19. Archived from the original on August 7, 2004.
  8. "The "Tin Drum" Controversy - Nonfiction by Daryl Lease". Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  9. "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.
  10. PUBLIB:3847 "Tin Drum" seized as obscene in Oklahoma (fwd)., July 21, 1997.
  11. A Fiasco in the Making.
  12. Trivia for Banned in Oklahoma. Internet Movie Database.
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