Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: David Bennent, Mario Adorf, Angela Winkler, Katharina Thalbach, Daniel Olbrychski
Director: Volker Schlondorff
Audio: German Dolby Digital 5.1, German Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: See Review
Length: 142 Minutes
Release Date: May 18, 2004

Film ***

We all know that Peter Pan vowed never to grow up and to never leave Neverland. That same promise is made by three year old Oskar Matzerath. Living in Danzing, Germany in the 1920s, Oskar sees the world around him growing into something that he has no desire to ever give into. On his third birthday, as a promise to himself, Oskar is indeed granted his desire to never grow an inch more for the remainder of his living years.

Volker Schlondorff’s The Tin Drum is a most unusual character study of a boy with a childlike appearance but with an intellect that goes way beyond it. Oskar, played in the film by David Bennent, also happens to have eccentric characteristics to go along with his unique appearance. The tin drum of the movie is Oskar’s sole source for protest. He beats it endlessly. If it is to ever be taken away from him, Oskar lets out a scratching scream that is capable of breaking glass within seconds. As the years go by, and the dawning of World War II sets in, Oskar’s protesting could never be in a more suited time.

As Oskar remains a growing boy inside a three year old’s body, he experiences confusion about certain things he witnesses. He begins to suspect that he may in fact have two fathers, since he witnesses his mother having an affair with another man. Later in his life, he is witness to his own mother’s suicide, which is through a most different manner than we’re probably used to seeing. And at one point, he even begins to feel sexual feelings for numerous women he encounters along the way.

As you can most likely assume, The Tin Drum is a film that could very much be misinterpreted, as it was by the folks in Oklahoma, who felt it was necessary to ban the film from the state’s libraries and video rental stores. I think it’s kind of absurd to deem this in any way, shape, or form as child pornography. True, it’s not a film for everyone’s tastes, but to label it that way was so incredibly over the top. People have every right to label a film as anything, only they must watch the actual film first.

Though the film’s story kind of lost me in its latter portions, such as Oskar starting to bear the Nazi uniform, The Tin Drum is a most unique work of art that is every bit worthy of the 1979 Palm d’Or it shared with Apocalypse Now. And let it be said that the film’s content shouldn’t go straight to one’s head. You may see certain things you’re not used to seeing, but once you remember the theme of the story, one shouldn’t be bothered by it at all.

Video ***1/2

With 25 years age to it, The Tin Drum has been presented in a most incredible anamorphic quality courtesy of the fine folks at Criterion. To tell you the truth, the image was so impressive that I forgot the film was even made in the late 70s, but that may just be me. A case, or two, of slight softness may surface, but they’re real quick and don’t even begin to distract from the overall enjoyment. In short, the picture itself is consistently clear and crisp. Colors are most strong and vibrant, in addition.

Audio ***

Criterion has supplied an option of a 5.1 mix or the original Dolby mono track. The 5.1 is really the one to go for if you seek a more powerful aural effect. The German dialogue is handled very well, music is most superb in playback, and the settings provide a nice sense of range. If anything, this strong, remastered presentation is illustrative proof of what Criterion is capable of in terms of taking aged films and making them sound like new.

Features ****

Criterion’s 2-Disc set is stocked up with just about every available bonus item having to do with the film, as well as issues surrounding the film.

Disc 1 includes a commentary track with director Volker Schlondorff, as well as an isolated music score by Maurice Jarre.

Disc 2 contains deleted scenes with optional commentary, two captivating documentaries; “Volker Schlondorff Remembers The Tin Drum”, and the intriguing “Banned In Oklahoma” which traces the three year time period when the state tried to ban the film only to have a fan of it strike back (the highlight of the disc). Also featured is rare footage from the 79 Cannes Film Festival, “The Platform”, a rare 1987 reading by Tin Drum author Gunter Grass, an excerpt from the screenplay including an unfilmed ending, promotional art, sketches, designs, and an original theatrical trailer.


The Tin Drum has earned its notoriety in film history unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. Thankfully, Criterion has made this a pivotal entry to their collection, making this a better than ever opportunity for it to be discovered for the work of cinematic art it really is.