The title refers to the Feuerzangenbowle punch consumed by a group of gentlemen in the opening scene. While exchanging nostalgic stories about their schooldays, the successful young writer Dr. Johannes Pfeiffer realizes he missed out on something because he was taught at home and never attended school. He decides to make up for it by masquerading as a student at a small town high school and quickly gains a reputation as a prankster. Together with his classmates, he torments his professors Crey, Bömmel and Headmaster Knauer with adolescent mischief. His girlfriend Marion unsuccessfully tries to persuade him to give up his foolish charade. Eventually, he falls in love with the headmaster’s daughter and discloses his identity after provoking the teachers into expelling him from school.Heinz Rühmann as Dr. Johannes Pfeiffer/Hans Pfeiffer
Karin Himboldt as Eva Knauer
Hilde Sessak as Marion
Erich Ponto as Professor Crey
Paul Henckels as Professor Bömmel
Hans Leibelt as principal Knauer
Lutz Götz as teacher 1st cl Dr Brett
Hans Richter as Rosen
Clemens Hasse as Rudi Knebel
Hedwig Wangel as Crey's housekeeper
Anneliese Würtz as Mrs Windscheidt
Margarete Schön as Mrs Knauer
Max Gülstorff as supervising teacher
Egon Vogel as music teacher Fridolin
Rudi Schippel as Luck
Ewald Wenck as janitor Kliemke
Albert Florath as a member of the punch bowl group
Karl Etlinger as a member of the punch bowl group
Georg H. Schnell as a member of the punch bowl group
Georg Vogelsang as a member of the punch bowl group
Walter Werner as Pfeiffers house servant
Film production and release
Die Feuerzangenbowle was produced by Ufa Studios in Potsdam-Babelsberg. Filming was drawn out by shooting scenes to perfection to save the younger actors from being drafted into the war. Nevertheless, by the time the film was released, the German army had suffered massive casualties and some of the actors had been killed on the battlefield despite these efforts.
The film's release was in question when Bernhard Rust, secretary of education and former high school teacher, bristled at the way the movie poked fun at teachers. To circumvent a ban by the censorship board, producer Heinz Rühmann presented the film to Hermann Göring at the Führerhauptquartier where it proved to be a success, thus affecting its delayed release on 28 February 1944 in Berlin.
Historic context and criticism
The transformation of the accomplished writer back to a not-so-innocent schoolboy is an example of the cheerful escapism popular in German films at the end of World War II. In 1942, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels had called for the production of predominantly entertaining films in Germany to distract the population from the political and moral debacle of the war.
The charm of the teachers in the film lies in their old-fashioned attitudes and individual quirks. As representatives of an older, non-fascist generation, they were a nostalgic reminder of a lost past to the wartime generation in Germany. The film ridicules and at the same time celebrates this lost individuality through parody.
Dr. Johannes Pfeiffer is an accomplished playwright in Berlin who never attended regular school, as he was educated at home. His friends' nostalgic recollections of their schooldays convince him that he missed out on something and he decides to go undercover as a gymnasium student in the fictional small town Babenberg. He introduces himself as Hans Pfeiffer "with three F – one before and two after the ei" and quickly gets into the habit of playing elaborate practical jokes on his teachers.
The teachers in the story are stereotypic parodies of different teaching styles. Professors Bömmel and Crey represent liberal and democratic teaching styles respectively, but neither has much luck in gaining the students’ respect. This feat is reserved for teacher Dr. Brett who does not appear in the book but was added to the 1944 movie to represent the authoritarian style popularized at the time although, here, Dr Brett exercises this style in a not unfriendly manner. The teachers' exaggerated individual quirks and particularly their dialects set them up to be easy targets for imitation and ridicule by the students. Some have acquired nicknames based on their looks. Headmaster Knauer, for example, is known as "Zeus" among the students, whereas Professor Crey is referred to as "Schnauz" (Moustache).
Two women play central roles in the story and Pfeiffer’s life. Pfeiffer’s lover Marion is a modern and self-assured "big city girl." She travels to Babenberg to try to convince Pfeiffer of the foolishness of his actions and bring him back to Berlin. Pfeiffer declines and she threatens to blow his cover. This makes her the "bad girl" of the story in accordance with the ideologies of the times reproving emancipated and "sinful" women like Marion. She eventually loses Pfeiffer when he falls in love with innocent blonde Eva, Headmaster Knauer’s daughter, who embodies the ideal image of a proper "girl next door."
Since the 1980s, the film has gained cult film status at many German universities. During party-like showings in university auditoriums in early December, students bring props to participate in the movie’s action similar to audience participation in showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. For example, the audience will ring alarm-clocks whenever an alarm-clock rings in the movie and use flashlights when Hans Pfeiffer uses a pocket mirror to pinpoint the location of the Goths on a map behind the teacher in order to help a fellow student in history class. In 2006, more than 10,000 students participated in this tradition in Göttingen alone.