Man on Horseback (German: Michael Kohlhaas – der Rebell) is a 1969 German drama film directed by Volker Schlöndorff based on the novel Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich Von Kleist. It was entered into the 1969 Cannes Film Festival.
Another film based on the book is scheduled for release at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. The made-for-TV western “The Jack Bull” (1999) starring John Cusack is also based on von Kleist’s “Michael Kohlhaas.”
Synopsis: It’s medieval times. Kohlhaas merchants with horses. When going to the local fair to sell his horses, is forced by a noble to leave him part of the merchandise as payment for traveling through his land, promising to give it back when the fair is over. When he returns, the horses are almost dead, and the man refuse to respond, so Kohlhass begins to fight unsuccesfuly against the injustice.
This is your basic revenge story with a bunch of horses and violence. Also, David Warner wears some ridiculous leather pants and gets Anna Karina to walk on his back.
In his New York Times review dated 20 June 1980, Vincent Canby wrote wrote about the English version of “Michael Kohlhaas”:
“Michael Kohlhaas,” which opens today at the Thalia Theater on a double-bill with Ted Post’s “The Baby” (see separate review), is an early (1969) film by Volker Schlondorff, who directed this year’s Oscar-winning screen version of Gunter Grass’s “The Tin Drum.” Of the German directors now receiving so much acclaim, Mr. Schlondorff is the least idiosyncratic, which may be why he so willingly and often so successfully adapts other people’s works, including Heinrich Boll’s “The Lost Honor of Kathrina Blum.” He bends his talent to the demands of others.
“Michael Kohlhaas” is a handsome, straightforward adaption of the 1810 novella written by Heinrich von Kleist (“The Marquise of O”), about a rigorously honest man named Michael Kohlhaas (David Warner), a successful horse dealer who, when the courts refuse to uphold his claim against a rich landowner, takes the law into his own hands. The setting is a small German principality and the time the mid-16th century.
In his pursuit of the landowner, the single-minded Kohlhaas gathers together a small armed band that first burns down the landowner’s castle, sacks one city and eventually threatens the entire country. Thus Kohlhaas, first seen as the unquestioning recipient of God’s favor, suddenly becomes a bandit, operating outside the laws he once invoked and which will eventually doom him.
Mr. Schlondorff honors Kleist’s peculiarly romantic pessimism with a production that has the purity of the prose of an austere fable. The landscapes are beautiful without being picturesque; the battle scenes brisk, violent and, as if by magic, not very bloody. Mr. Warner, whose most recent appearances have been only slightly less ridiculous than the films that contain them, gives a fine performance that is stylized but devoid of mannerisms. The beautiful Anna Karina, who was just ending her long association with Jean-Luc Godard at the time the film was made, is sweetly affecting as Kohlhaas’s wife, whom the gods also destroy.
The dubbing in this English-language version is not always first-rate, but it’s nice to know that Mr. Warner and the other English-speaking actors are, at least, accompanied by their own voices.