From Thomas Mann’s last novel, adapted by his daughter, Erika Mann, and Robert Thoeren, Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull chronicles a most charmingly talkative boy, the “confidence man” of the title. Felix sharply observes what’s going on around him, and talks himself out of difficulties or onto higher and higher rungs of success. He may be deceitful and self-involved (he is a thief), but at least in Kurt Hoffmann’s wholly delightful film he is as much in love with the world and with language as he is with himself. Youth is not wasted on Felix Krull.
In cinema’s most hilarious draft board examination, Felix stages such antics that the examiners conclude he must have epilepsy and exempt him from military service. But the film shows its versatility, and Krull’s, by immediately shifting gears with the touching scene of Felix’s departure from family and the Rhine Valley, that is to say, the known world, for Paris, where his life begins anew as a bellhop at a luxury hotel. Ladies are attracted to this sly, ebullient, confident boy, and soon he is a waiter in the ground-floor hotel restaurant and then on upper floors. But Felix—or Armand, as he now calls himself—is not one to get caught up in entangling alliances. “I want to give you a child!” a diner exults, grabbing his arm. Felix: “One doesn’t give a waiter a child, Mademoiselle. One gives a waiter a tip!” Yet again the film shifts emotional gears as another diner, a wealthy man, asks Felix to become his personal manservant in Scotland (“follow me,” the man begs), a likely gay overture. Indeed, Felix gets lots of offers to mull over.
In his early twenties, Horst Buchholz is dazzlingly brilliant in his star-making role.
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