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'Berlin Express' may not have much of a reputation, but it's one of
Jacques Tourneur's best thrillers. Virtually none of it takes place on
the Berlin Express, with the majority of the film shot on location in
the awe-inspiring ruins of an almost totally destroyed post-war
Frankfurt where Robert Ryan teams up with an Allies-in-microcosm group
of companions including unflatteringly shot Frenchwoman Merle Oberon
(sporting the film's worst accent by far) and Brit Robert Coote (who
thankfully doesn't even attempt a Liverpool accent) to find Paul Lukas'
kidnapped politician and save him from die-hard Nazi fanatics. Great
moments abound, from the Paris opening where a carrier pigeon is shot,
then nearly given a formal burial in the shadow of Montmatre's Sacre
Couer by children before reaching maman's kitchen table to reveal a
coded message, to Robert Ryan literally finding himself trapped in a
barrel in bombed out brewery.
Great production line entertainment that demonstrates just how good studio product could be when you got the formula right, this is a trip well worth taking. The French DVD from Editions Montparnasse boasts a very good good transfer and removable French subtitles.
I saw this movie recently on TCM and liked it. I thought the plot was
as was the acting. I couldn't believe that the secretary was Merle
I hardly recognized her, and I think that is a testament to how good an
acting job she did. Some of the lines seemed stilted and staged,
particularly toward the end, but given the time period when the movie was
filmed, not at all surprising. There was a good mix of characters, but
real star of the film is the location: there are wonderful shots of
and Frankfurt right after the war, and the devastation around the
adds a powerful unspoken dimension to the film.
For anyone who enjoyed this movie, I would also highly recommend "Decision Before Dawn," also filmed on location in postwar Europe, which starred Richard Basehart, Oskar Werner and a whole host of other fabulous character actors, including Hildegard Kneff.
It is irksome, but neither Berlin Express nor Decision Before Dawn seem to be available on Video or DVD, which is a real shame. So, watch your TV listings for these two.
I've only seen this movie once but what differentiates it for me is not
the story, the actors, or the director, but rather the footage of post
WWII Frankfurt Germany and the devastation wrought by the war.
In addition to the general post-war, pre-Cold War footage, the most fascinating thing is the film shot inside the I.G. Farben builting. This building is famous among architects and has a unique interior, shown in the film. This building was also the "Abrams Building" during the time the U.S. military occupied it during the Cold War and anyone who was in Frankfurt in the 1970's or 1980's might recognise it as unchanged inside from the time the movie was made to the time one served in the Army. This film is rare because that was a secure building during much of the Cold War. Today I believe the Army has left the building and it is occupied by a school or college.
Lots of history in this movie. I wish it was available on DVD.
On a surface level this is a kind of benevolent THIRD MAN, as a group of
international comrades, most prominently a naive American, try to root out
sinister Germans and a betraying friend in the rubbles of post-war Europe.
The script is a model of civic decency, as it dramatises the lingering
dangers facing Europe after the war, but offering a narrative of
co-operation and hope.
Director Tourneur, however, had only just directed the beautifully bleak OUT OF THE PAST, and this film is full of a blackness overwhelming good intentions, where the frightening contingencies of history and inexplicable darkness of man are not so easily swept aside. His mastery of space and lighting, his disturbing compositions and vigorous editing are an eternal pleasure not to be enjoyed again until Scorcese's glory days.
This movie is most notable as a historical document giving a glimpse of
Germany after the war. The location shots in bombed out Frankfurt and
Berlin are rather startling, and it's interesting to see the hatred and
mistrust everyone has for the Germans. The movie is shot very well and
the early scenes are excellent.
Unfortunately the script is weak. Towards the end I realized that I just wasn't clear on why things were happening as they were. It felt like the plot was just a backdrop to the ambiance, which was fine in the beginning but became a problem as the plot moved its wobbly self to center stage. I can't entirely blame the script though; I think Tourneur's greatest failing as a director is that while he had a lot of style and could always make things interesting, he could be sloppy in terms of telling a story. Of course he wasn't the only director who believed you could gloss over a lot if you just kept things moving, but that works better with a good muddled script like The Big Sleep rather than the distinctly ordinary but muddled script he worked with here. Still worth seeing though.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Fresh from the acclaim he got for Out of the Past, director Jacques
Tourneur went to Europe with his cast and crew and became the first
film maker from the west to do a movie in occupied Germany. It's a good
noir thriller, but it is also a plea for unity and understanding among
nations, specifically those who were occupying Germany at that time.
It's quite a little United Nations on a train from Paris to Berlin with Robert Ryan American agricultural expert, Robert Coote British school teacher, Roman Toporow Russian soldier, Charles Korvin French bon vivant and Merle Oberon another French national with a German VIP Paul Lukas.
Lukas is quite a VIP indeed, he's the prototype for Konrad Adenauer an anti-Nazi leader who is going to a conference to present a plan for a reunified Germany. But the former regime has a few adherents who skulk in dark places and when they fail at an assassination (they kill a double)they kidnap Lukas to prevent the conference from getting off the ground.
The grand alliance that defeated Hitler is fraying at the seams, but these folks get together for one more endeavor to find Lukas and incidentally clear themselves of complicity in what's happening.
Tourneur did a grand job in making use of the bombed out locations in Frankfurt where most of the story takes place. It certainly gives authenticity to the story.
As a plea against provincial thinking Berlin Express sends a valiant but forlorn message. The following year the French, British, and American zones of occupation formed the Federal Republic of Germany with Konrad Adenauer at the head. The Russians took about a third of the country and formed the German Democratic Republic and thus Germany was divided for about 40 years.
I do believe Lukas is right at times when he says man might only unite if aliens invade the earth. It might just be worth it.
This film is about the only one I can recall that deals with the anti-West resistance that the US and its allies received from the conquered Germans after WWII. Apart from this movie, you'd think that ALL the Germans easily adapted to their new rule, while in reality there were murders and scattered resistance for several years in an effort by ex-Nazis to destabilize the peace. For historical reasons alone, it is an important movie. Robert Ryan plays our hero who finds out about a Nazi murder plot and, with the help of a multinational team, he goes to action. I think that having help from the Russians, French and British is interesting, but highly improbable and seemed like a bit of a cliché, but nevertheless it's a great film and well wroth seeing.
Set in a post WW-2 Germany, "Berlin Express" is a quite interesting
thriller directed by Jacques Tourneur. The story is basically about a
of people each of whom representing Russian, French, American and British
forces who are united in trying to solve an assassination attempt made by
Nazi underground group on a Professor Bernhardt, one of the former
of German Resistance to Nazis and now a chairman of a commission for
post-war unification of Germany.
"Berlin Express" is particularly interesting for it's exteriors shot in 1947 on real locations with special permission from Allied forces, showing destroyed by bombings Frankfurt and Berlin. 7/10
I always think that it is a good idea to make a thriller/ mystery story
when one is trying to show something that has nothing to do with that. In
"The Berlin Express" we are shown post-war Germany, the consequences of
World War. First the film can look as a triumphant look of the winner of
war towards the wreckage it left behind. Such sentences as "here justice
arranged it so that the punishment were equal to the crime" (I'm not sure
the quote is correct, but the idea is) might corroborate that first
impression. However it is possible that all is meant as great irony.
The film is good. It isn't great though - just compare it with Reed's "The Third Man" and you'll see the difference between a master piece, a work of a superb team, and a reasonably well-made picture. However one mustn't forget that "reasonably well-made" pictures aren't so easy to do, and thus "The Berlin Express" seems to me to be a good movie.
This movie is interesting because it shows the effect of the terrible bombings by the allies on cities crowded with civilians: especially Frankfurt and Berlin. It was made on location in 1947 and therefore a testimony of the ruins. It was only released in Germay 8 years later. Professor Bernhardt is handled with a surprising respect by the American officers during the investigations. Robert Ryan as Robert Lindley seems to be more accurate. Jacques Tourneur develops the thriller with skill.
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