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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"A Foreign Affair" is not one of the films, directed by Billy Wilder,
that are constantly seen on cable. We saw the movie a few years ago, as
part as a tribute to the master. "A Foreign Affair" shows a Billy
Wilder at one of his best moments of his Hollywood career. In going
back to a destroyed Berlin, a city in which he lived, Mr. Wilder, and
his collaborators, presents us with a film that must have been close to
We are shown a Berlin in ruins right after the war as the US Congressional delegation comes to investigate the morale of the American men deployed in the divided city. It was still a time where some Nazis are still hiding from justice as the Allied forces are looking for them. One of the members of the commission that arrives in Berlin, Congresswoman Phoebe Frost, is carrying a birthday cake for one of her Iowa constituents, sent by his girlfriend.
Berlin in those days was a place where things were hard to obtain. A lot of everyday goods, as well as all types of items, were bought, sold, or bartered, in the streets. We get a glimpse of it, as Capt. John Pringle exchanges his own birthday cake for a mattress that he intends to present to his current love, the exotic Erika, who entertains in the Lorelei, the cabaret that attracts a mixed crowd. Things get complicated as Phoebe Frost, who is a sticker for detail, catches Pringle at the night club. Phoebe, Pringle and Erika will be involved in a web of deception, intrigue and love. The no-nonsense Congresswoman falls in love, against her better judgment with the handsome Pringle.
There are delicious moments in the film that only someone with Mr. Wilder's eye for detail could get from his players. Phoebe Frost is taken for a ride with two GIs who think she is a local. The Congresswoman also plays a number in the Lorelei, a song with the appropriate title of "Iowa Corn Song", one of the highlights of the movie. Also, Erika, sings a couple of numbers, "Illusions", and "Ruins of Berlin" that will stay with the viewer because of the way Ms. Dietrich could only interpret them. Another sequence involves Pringle and Phoebe inside a file room in which drawers are opened and shut with an amazing pace.
Jean Arthur is the best thing in the film. She was an actress who showed every emotion so well in her expressive face. Phoebe Frost has to be one of the best roles she ever played on the screen. Marlene Dietrich is another asset in the movie. Her Erika was a survivor, as she clearly shows. John Lund, makes a wonderful Pringle, the man who ends falling in love with Phoebe. Millard Mitchell is seen as Col. Plummer.
The only thing with the copy shown on TCM, it was so dark, that at times is hard to see what's going on. The photography by Charles Lang shows the devastation and the condition that Berlin looked like right after being repeatedly bombed by the Allies during WWII. At one point in the film, Erika tells Phoebe to accompany her home, "It's the next ruin", she explains.
"A Foreign Affair" is one of Mr. Wilder's best achievements as he gives us an account of the city he knew well.
The main impression left by "A Foreign Affair" is Billy Wilder's nobility toward German people. With authentic magnanimity, he chooses to represent Germans as a pitiful people struggling to survive, not a cruel enemy to hate. The movie has an intrinsic historical interest, since it was filmed in 1948 Berlin, completely destroyed by bombs. As usual in Wilder's works, the plot is beautifully constructed, the dialogue is witty and funny, irony, sarcasm and anti-rhetoric are spread along the movie. In the opening scenes we see army captain John Lund at the black-market, selling a cake, hand-made by his American sweetheart and coming from the States, to buy a gift for his Berliner lover Marlene Dietrich. By the way, Dietrich and most Berliner women seem to be on the verge of prostitution, just to get primary goods to survive in post-war disaster. Lund meets Jean Arthur, a US congresswoman committed in hunting nazi war criminals. As a matter of fact, we follow Lund's attempts to destroy evidence of Dietrich's nazi past: a behavior by the captain not exactly patriotic, nor ethic. The finale is deeper than it appears at a first sight: brutal tyranny, based on terror and slaughter, is doomed to be annihilated, buried under the rubble; pretty girls remain, helping us to spend our life on this unhappy earth.
Congresswoman Frost (Jean Arthur) comes to occupied Berlin to investigate
the moral decay' of US troops but falls in love with Captain Pringle (John
Lund), who is having an affair with nightclub singer von Schlütow (Marlene
Dietrich), who in turn is the ex-moll of a Nazi big wig.
Which filmmaker alive today would have the guts, the clout and the talent to make this dark a satire on the rebuilding of Iraq'? Only three years after World War II, here is a movie that mercilessly punches holes through all illusions about patriotism, militarism or the nobility of the American cause. Nobody is spared in Billy Wilder's vision: the soldiers, the politicians, the Germans, they all claim to be working for the great cause of building a New Germany, while at the same time ruthlessly pursuing their own self-interests (self-interests, more often than not, having to do with getting laid). Wilder's very own brand of romanticism and sharp wit keep this movie from getting too grim and his cynical, played-for-laughs version of Germany Year Zero may well be more honest and grounded in reality than the misery-fest of Roberto look at me caring for these poor victims' Rosselini.
in this excellent and underrated Billy Wilder film. Dietrich plays a former Nazi trying to hide behind a post-war American boyfriend. Jean Arthur plays a spinster American congresswoman, and John Lund is the man they both fall for. The scenes of bombed-out Berlin are astonishing, and the 3 stars are wonderful in this sly comedy that gets better with every viewing. The highlights tho are Dietrich's musical numbers sung in a basement speakeasy. She sings the great "Black Market" with composer Frederick Hollander at the piano. She sings LIVE and it's electrifying. She also sings "The Ruins of Berlin" and "Lovely Illusions." Jean Arthur is also good in one of her last films. Millard Mitchell, Bill Murphy, Stanley Prager, and Gordon Jones co-star. A must!
This is one of Billy Wilder's least known films...and one of his best.
A brilliant, cynical comedy about post-war Berlin goings on...black
market, Army officers having affairs with notorious ex-Nazis, etc.
It stars Marlene Dietrich (one of her all-time best performances), and amazing Jean Arthur (in one of her final films), and newcomer John Lund, who was rather wooden in later performances...here, he's terrific.
Songs and musical score by Frederick Hollander...who's actually present playing piano. The three songs Dietrich sings, "Black Market", "Illusions" and "Ruins of Berlin" are lyrically integral to the plot and represent three of best songs written for a non-musical film of the late 1940's.
There's some serious plot points underneath the cynical comedy.
Wish to heck Universal would open their vaults and release it on DVD in the US; thankfully it's available in the UK (get an all-region DVD player...I did!).
It's an absolutely essential late 1940's comedy and in my opinion, one of Billy Wilder's best comedies.
Remember....Wilder's next film was "Sunset Boulevard".
This is a well written (Brackett and Breen) and directed (Billy Wilder)
film with great performances. Marlene Dietrich is impressive as the
Nazi chanteuse with loose morals, great legs and an eye for the main
chance. Her songs e.g. Ruins of Berlin are sardonic and compelling.
Jean Arthur is irresistible as the frustrated Congresswoman, throwing
herself at John Lund with enthusiasm and gradually coming to see human
behaviour in shades of grey, rather than black and white.
John Lund is very good as the cynical army officer, attracted to Dietrich while repelled by her politics and prepared to romance Arthur in order to bury Dietrich's Nazi past. He has a nice way with underplayed humour e.g. "It can't be subversive to kiss a Republican!" Supporting actors, especially Millard Mitchell as Col Plummer are all good.
Berlin makes a bleak impressive backdrop, making the behaviour of the occupying troops and the Berliners easy to understand. There are some lovely vignettes e.g. the German woman pushing a pram decorated with the US flag.
Unfortunately the film was perceived as unpatriotic by many critics and did not do as much for the career of John Lund as it should.
This is one of those comedies that will always exist in the
stratosphere of wit, intelligence and truth. It pulls no punches about
politics, greed, hypocrisy & opportunism and treats its audience like
grown-ups. It is as applicable to today's congress and the situation in
Iraq as it was to post-WWII Germany (to which today's politicians still
make frequent comparisons). It also was the first film to unflinchingly
capture the effects of the WWII devastation of Berlin.
And what a cast! Jean Arthur, surely one of the greatest of all Hollywood comediennes, Marlene Dietrich in a part to match her Lola Lola in Blue Angel, John Lund a great under-utilized actor with the wit and ruggedness of Clark Gable and Millard Mitchell, one of those character actors whose mold was sadly broken decades ago.
In my book this film ranks with Double Indemnity as the best work of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett.
Great songs by the legendary Frederick Hollander who actually appears here as Dietrich's accompanist.
Billy, just how did you do it?
This is a superb film on post-war Germany, and an amazing take on Berlin in the late 40s. Wilder combines his poetical eye for the comic with a very subtle analysis of morality. And, on top of that, Marlene Dietrich sings and sums it all up. This film is a classic, make no mistake about that, and you definitely want to see it. Plus, it's history.
Billy Wilder had a special relationship with Berlin, and, to be sure, with Germany, and his movies show how deep this understanding ran: "One,Two, Three" and "A Foreign Affair" are among the best films made on Berlin. Full stop.
A dazzling movie,standing with Billy Wilder's very best, and surely it
has Marlene Dietrich's finest performance. Berlin,
l946...bitter...witty...haunting story, interesting characters,
You can go back and back to savor this one.The talk is terrific, and the urgency of feeling, and the sharp comedy and underlying drama are pure gold. Dietrich's songs, "In the Ruins of Berlin," and "Black Market" ,show a Great Star doing her superb stuff.
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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