A congressional committee visits occupied Berlin to investigate G.I. morals. Congresswoman Phoebe Frost, appalled at widespread evidence of human frailty, hears rumors that cafe singer Erika, former mistress of a wanted war criminal, is "protected" by an American officer, and enlists Captain John Pringle to help her find him...not knowing that Pringle is Erika's lover. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Upon completion of location shooting, Billy Wilder headed back home by way of Paris, where he stopped in to see Marlene Dietrich to convince her to take the part of the German cabaret singer and former Nazi official's mistress. Dietrich had spent most of the war travelling among Allied troops, justly lauded for her anti-fascist efforts, often at the front lines, popping back to the States only occasionally for movie roles. Her immediate reaction when Wilder brought his offer to her at the Hotel Georges V where she was staying was a quick and vehement no. She had no intention of playing a woman with a Nazi past, but Wilder wouldn't take no for an answer. He swayed her with the promise that her songs in the picture would be written by her old friend and frequent composer Friedrich Hollaender. One story has it that eventually he showed her screen tests of other actresses he claimed to be considering for the role and that did the trick (reportedly, one of them was June Havoc), although Wilder denied that such a ploy was ever used. More likely what swayed her was the fact that her screen popularity had waned and she needed a hit movie. It also helped considerably that she would be paid $110,000 with an additional $66,000 promised for overtime. See more »
When the Americans are flying over Berlin, the scenery outside Phoebe's (Jean Arthur's) window never changes. See more »
Colonel Plummer, in your eloquent speech, which I'm sure you've made 50 times, you used the phrase "Some of our boys may get out of line sometimes." That, gentlemen, is a masterpiece of understatement.
Col. Rufus J. Plummer:
What are you driving at, Miss Frost?
In your admirable effort to civilize this country, our boys are rapidly becoming barbarians themselves.
Col. Rufus J. Plummer:
I explained on that tour...
Yes, I know all about those tours. You put blinkers on us. You maneuver us around. You make sure we only see what you want us to...
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For the two decades after World War II, there was a popular fascination involving films about or made in a reconstructed Europe. From The Search to The Great Escape, a genuine sense of authenticity maintained, sustained by writers, actors, and directors who had actually lived through the epoch. Most of them are now gone, not the least of which was one of the finest directors ever: Billy Wilder.
In this film, there are few stock caricatures once the viewer is able to get past certain allusions to contemporary popular culture (e.g. Who now remembers who "Gabriel Heatter" was?). Even the line "Is it subversive to kiss a Republican?" has a fresh ring to it. The writers must have been pleased with Wilder's usual fast-paced and witty visual turns accentuating their remarkable script.
Of course there is Marlene Dietrich the icon in effect playing herself as a postwar blue angel, and real Germans speaking real German where the story demanded it. Jean Arthur provides an able if somewhat overdrawn foil for La Dietrich, and has a little fun at it. In one scene, she coyly admits her first name is "Phoebe," which happens to be the name of a character she played years earlier in a western called Arizona (1940).
Wilder would revisit Berlin again in 1961 for the hilarious send-up One, Two, Three -- still a great favorite and indeed a classic film.
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