Berlin Express (1948)

4 08 2010

There’s a few redeeming qualities here, perhaps most obvious is Tourneur’s ability to create beautiful images out of what would otherwise be extremely mundane. That’s sort of a good way to describe the movie as a whole, too. If it wasn’t for Tourneur, the cinematography of Lucien Ballard (who did Mikey and Nicky!) and Robert Ryan’s presence, this would be pretty much unwatchable. Sure, there’s some nice documentary-esque footage of war-torn Germany and yes, Tourneur finds a perfect balance between that and his most stylized compositions. The problem here, though, is that the story is so run of the mill and tacky.

To begin, there is an extremely annoying voiceover which serves as a sort of news reel narrator, a la Anthony Mann’s (better) T-Men from the previous year. This isn’t really a bad idea on paper, but the execution is so damn awkward. We see the narration continue after multiple cuts and shots of Robert Ryan looking in the distance. Third person voiceovers are almost always terrible, but this one has to be the least graceful one I’ve seen in a long, long time. It really shows the movie’s potential “B” status.

Again, I think Tourneur should get a lot of credit for making the film as watchable as it is. The Berlin footage is astonishing, and immediately reminds one of Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero. The fact of the matter is, I don’t think many other Hollywood-based directors would have done this, even though in this case, the quality of the script doesn’t really warrant such dedication. The film remains a curiosity, though, if only for the footage of Frankfurt-am-Main and the IG Farben building. I can’t really recommend this to anyone, unless they are interested in Tourneur (as I am) but there’s still enough things here to make the movie interesting, which should count for something.

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2 responses

5 08 2010
atyo

it’s so nice to read you again on a regular basis

14 09 2010
Colin

The whole thing just doesn’t gel together properly, does it? At best, it’s a middling spy thriller with a noir look. That opening voiceover is pretty bad and the forced optimism is a real negative.
Like you say, one for Tourneur fans, just a shame about the scripting.

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