Tags: germany | world war | nazi | philip kerr | metropolis | bernie gunther

'Metropolis': Kerr's Magnum Opus, Bernie Gunther's Farewell

arnold schwarzenegger sits and points while making his remarks to the media
Arnold Schwarzenegger has reportedly expressed interest in the rights to Bernie Gunther's character for the big screen. (Sthanlee B. Mirador/AP)

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Monday, 08 April 2019 06:55 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Imagine for a moment being in the theatre in 1961 and watching "The Misfits" — Clark Gable's final film, released several months after the death of "The King" at age 59.

Or think of reading "The Man With the Golden Gun" when it came out in 1965. The thrillers about spy-for-all seasons James Bond came to a close with the posthumous publishing of the late Ian Fleming's final novel. (Fleming did actually two Bond short stories, "Octopussy" and "The Living Daylights" that were published later).

In both situations, one gets the usual excitement experienced by seeing or reading of the hero in another exciting situation. But the feeling is bittersweet, since one also knows this is the last time we will experience our larger-than-life hero who has long been a part of our lives.

So it is when the reader delves into "Metropolis," Philip Kerr's latest 14th and last novel about Bernie Gunther – the cynical, hard-drinking German detective of pre-war and post-war Berlin who endeared himself to readers worldwide since the author's debut novel "March Violets" in 1990.

Two years ago, fans of "the Bernie books" (that is what we called them!) were devastated to learn author Kerr died of cancer at 61. At his final book-signing event in Washington two years ago, Kerr (who kept his illness a deep secret) mentioned he was the same age as his hero Gu8nther was in his latest adventure.

That was "Greeks Bearing Gifts," in which Gunther — back in Germany in 1956 after years in South America and France — is working as a claims adjuster for an insurance company and heads to Athens to deal with a large claim. He ends up dealing with a grotesque Nazi killer from wartime now operating incognito.

In "Metropolis," we jump back in time (Kerr never wrote Bernie books in chronological order) to 1928, when the young Berlin Kriminalpolezei Inspector Guenther is assigned to find out who is behind the killings of prostitutes and several crippled World War I veterans using wheelchairs.

Bernie, for whom nothing ever seems easy, goes undercover as an injured veteran and begs while using a wheelchair ("cripple carts," in the parlance of the streets).

The lawman — who would be thrice married, twice widowed, and once divorced over three decades — falls in love with a blonde makeup artist at Theatre am Schiffbauer. Ever the cynic about theatre and entertainment, Bernie dismisses the premiere of its new musical production: "The Threepenny Opera," about which the detective asks if that was the cost of the production.

(Following its premiere Aug. 31, 1928, "Threepenny Opera" would go on to be one of the all-time successes on stage and is performed to this day. Actress Lotte Lenya, who sings its signature tune "Mac the Knife," and whose husband Kurt Weill composed the score, briefly meets Bernie).

Along with Lenya, Bernie's life in 1928 includes true-to-life figures such as his boss Bernhard Weiss, chief of the Berlin Police during Weimar Germany, screenwriter Thea von Harbou (screenwriter and wife of legendary film director Fritz Lang), and notorious criminal rings such as the Grosser Ring and the Freier Bund.

The author also maintains his "modus operandi" of past works for "Metropolis" — offering the reader an inarguably accurate portrayal of real sites from Bernie's adventures. In "Metropolis," these include the "Sing Sing Club," a nightclub where guests were selected to sit in an electric chair on stage, and the Berlin morgue, where bodies were displayed for three weeks before burial.

As much as Christopher Isherwood's "Cabaret," Kerr's "Metropolis" brings to life the Berlin of 1920's Weimar Germany — decadent, dark, and about to descend into the long darkness under the rising Nazi Party Bernie so loathes. Like Hans Helmut Kirst’s Gunner Asch, Bernie Guenther is "the good German" who hated Nazis from the beginning and did his utmost to avoid being part of their scheming.

In many ways, this is Philip Kerr's magnum opus. It introduces us to a young and very human Bernie at the earliest stage of his near 30-year run and at a point when he is battling both alcoholism and nightmares from his days at the front in World War I.

Bernie Gunther might yet return to us in the form of movies or a television series. Several actors, among them Arnold Schwarzenegger, approached the author for rights to his character. But we also know "Metropolis" is the last of the "Bernie books."

For that, all we can is "Danke Schoen, Herr Kerr" — and be happy we had the experience of knowing Bernie Gunther.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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"Metropolis" is the last of the "Bernie books" and Philip Kerr's magnum opus, according to Newsmax's John Gizzi.
germany, world war, nazi, philip kerr, metropolis, bernie gunther
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2019-55-08
Monday, 08 April 2019 06:55 PM
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