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At the end of the world war, several German soldiers return home to their city to find the social fabric and civil order disintegrating as communist gangs roam the streets and food and jobs become scarce. Riots and massacres lead the erstwhile average men to become cynical and desperate. Written by
Saw this at what is now presumed to be the final Cinefest, a Syracuse festival of old films that never get shown, and it was a highlight. An antiwar epic that was Whale's followup to "Show Boat," and two more different films can't be imagined, it's an impassioned look at the last days of World War 1 from the Germans' perspective, and the aftermath. Whale worked from a good screenplay by R.C. Sheriff (he'd also filmed Sheriff's "Journey's End" years before), and the war sequences are quite stunning. What hurts the film is some probably studio-imposed comic relief in the second half, undercutting the strong drama, and a leading man, John King, who simply wasn't up to it. But there's an excellent supporting cast, including Slim Summerville, whose role is partly but not entirely comic, and who shows subtleties his comic performances couldn't contain. Other unexpected people turn up, like Louise Fazenda and Dwight Frye, and the third act allows for some fine antiwar sermonizing that's still pertinent. It's superbly designed and directed, and one wishes it could be shown more.
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