Susanne Wallner returns to the ruins of Berlin from a Concentration Camp after WW2 to discover that someone else lives in her apartment: Dr. Hans Mertens, the war made him depressive and he drinks a lot of alcohol. Susanne asks him to go but he doesn't want to, so they share Susanne's apartment and even discover their sympathy and then their love for each other. That encourages him a little, of course. But then he hears that Ferdinand Brückner is still alive and also lives in Berlin. Brückner was his Captain during WW2, he gave the order to kill more than 100 innocent people, many children and women among them, on Christmas 1942 in Poland. Written by
Shortly before the premiere, it was decided that leading actor Ernst 'Wilhelm Borchert' was not to be mentioned on posters and in the credits, since he had forged his forms of denazification. He had omitted that he had been a member of the NSDAP since 1933, but it later turned out his connection to the party was without further consequences. See more »
The opening scene conveys the film's mood. A low-angle camera shot shows bombed-out buildings, rubble in the street, an abandoned war tank, a makeshift wooden cross stuck in the ground, and a middle age man walking alone toward the camera, as three children play amid the ruins. There's no dialogue, just jazzy, bouncy, upbeat piano music that contrasts sharply with the bleak B&W image.
Set in Berlin in 1945, the film tells the fictional story of a former surgeon, the man in the opening scene, whose name is Dr. Mertens (Ernst Borchert). He's dispirited and cynical. He meets up with a young woman, played by Hildegard Knef. The two of them share an uninviting apartment, severely damaged in the recently ended war. Knef's character is attracted to the dejected surgeon. But he's too disheartened to care. The deaths of thousands of people in a war render a surgeon's job of saving one life rather meaningless, according to Dr. Mertens. As the plot moves along, he reunites with an older, prosperous industrialist, a man whose attitude about the war is curiously indifferent.
All of the film's photography was done in Berlin, right after the war. The destroyed buildings and brick rubble are a big part of the story, symbolic of human devastation. B&W, expressionistic cinematography is terrific, with stark shadows amid the ruins, human silhouettes against bleak, cracked walls.
Interiors remind me of those in "The Blue Angel" (1930), dilapidated, dirty, cheap, drab, and very depressing. In "The Murderers Are Among Us", background music is minimal. Most scenes lack music, and the story is more potent for it. Sound effects consist of squeaky doors, footsteps on wooden floors, and other realistic sounds. The film's casting and acting are fine.
Historically significant as the first German film made in Germany following the end of WWII, "The Murderers Are Among Us" reminds us of the horrors of war. One scene near the end is unforgettable in its severity. Outside at night, with snow gently falling, arc lights create ghostly shadows. The surgeon stands alone amid the rubble, outside a damaged church where people inside are singing "Silent Night". Faces of the people are grim. What a bleak period in human history.
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