Asphalt (1929) Poster

(1929)

User Reviews

Review this title
19 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
7/10
Although the story is very, very simple, it's also well made.
MartinHafer2 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Betty Amann plays a pretty lady living in Berlin. However, she is a thief--and a very good one at that. Soon after the film begins, she is caught after she steals a diamond--but the authorities cannot find the stone on her. But, an eager young policeman (Gustav Fröhlich) figures out where she's hiding the diamond and he takes her off to the police station. However, he is quite foolish, as the fast-talking thief convinces him to first stop at her apartment to get her things. Well, one thing leads to another and she seduces him. To her, it's all to get out of going to jail--to him, he's having a crisis as he's betrayed everything he stood for. Where all this goes next you'll need to see for yourself.

The film is generally quite good, though there are two minor problems I noticed. The acting was occasionally a bit overdone--though mostly it was quite good. Also, the ending seemed a bit hard to believe--though it was satisfying to watch. So although the film wasn't perfect, the problems were easily forgivable. Interesting and well made.
6 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Else in the Underworld
TheLittleSongbird21 April 2020
Have had a long-term interest and appreciation of silent films, of all genres, so that was just one reason to see 'Asphalt'. There are also many masterpieces of German cinema, especially the best of Fritz Lang and FW Murnau as well as very early Ernst Lubitsch. Who were/are truly wonderful and influential directors, with their best work masterpieces of their respective genres and of film in general (some being great influences on other fine directors).

It was interesting to see a German, a beautiful language by the way that may sound harsh when spoken but is actually very poetic when for example singing Schubert or reading Goethe, film not directed by either Lang or Murnau. And 'Asphalt' was one such film, directed by Joe May. Who was actually a big name pre-Lang and Murnau, with a solid career, but once those two hit their stride May became overshadowed sadly and it was a shame. Because his best work is great, as can be seen with 1929's 'Asphalt'.

'Asphalt' for starters looks absolutely amazing, one of the best-looking films of the 20s. Not just some of the dazzling photography, the most beautiful and atmospheric for any early film, any film of the genre and film overall. But also the meticulous interiors and eerie neon lihjting, not to mention sequence montage at its best. It is hauntingly scored too.

May directs superbly, who shows why it is a shame that he isn't better known now. It is pretty immaculate and especially inspired visually and at the start. The story may be cliched with all the story elements being hardly innovative, but it is elevated by its suspense, creepy atmosphere and that it has more complexity (while still being cohesive) than what sounds potentially simplistic on paper. My jaw hasn't dropped this much at an opening scene for any film in a long time.

The climax is also suitably suspenseful. The characters are all interesting psychologically. All the cast are strong, with Betty Amann being particularly beguiling, very expressive face and eyes. Gustav Frohlich brings plenty of nuance to his psychologically layered character.

Overall, excellent. 9/10
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
4/10
Nothing new here
Horst_In_Translation11 March 2016
Warning: Spoilers
"Asphalt" is a German 90-minute silent movie in black-and-white. This was made in 1929 and at that time, it was already the final years for silent films as sound movies took over a little later. And this film here was unfortunately also no great farewell to the old days. This film brings really nothing new to the table. It is the old femme-fatale story that was so popular during the days of silent film and her male equivalent is a police officer this time, which obviously result in quite a few issues in terms of breaking the law or not. Lead actress Betty Amann sure looks the part and it may have been her performance here that let her work with Hitchcock not much later. Yet, that part was nowhere near as big as her role here, so this stays her career-defining performance. She looks a lot like Louise Brooks by the way and I wonder why femme-fatales were basically always dark-haired in film during that era.

The writer and director here is Joe May, very simple name, but he is not really known today anymore and this one here may also be his most famous work. Sadly, I do think that it was his script that was the reason why I did not find this a particularly great watch. The actors were okay. The film also could have needed more intertitles, but that's true for 95% of the old films from the silent era. So overall, not a failure, but also not a particularly good watch and I found little to none memorable moments in this movie. I cannot recommend. Sorry, I have to give it a thumbs down.
1 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
A Dramatic Early Film-Noir
claudio_carvalho11 January 2011
In Berlin, the dedicated traffic officer Albert Holk (Gustav Fröhlich) is a young man that lives with his parents. When the elegant and charming Else Kramer (Betty Amann) shoplifts a diamond in the Bergen Jewelry, the officer arrests her despite the request of the owner to release the youngster after retrieving the stone. They take a cab to the police station and Else first cries and then she unsuccessfully tries to seduce the uncorrupted officer. When they are in front of the precinct, Else asks Albert to go to her house first to get her documents. The reluctant officer finally accepts her request to go to her apartment and once there, she seduces him. On the next day, Albert feels guilty for failing on his duty. Else decides to return his documents that she had stolen in the previous night with a box of cigars. When the carrier delivers the envelope to Albert, he goes to Else's apartment offended with the bribe. But sooner he succumbs to the gorgeous lady and proposes her. Else questions the future of a policeman with a thief and shows that she stole the diamond for greed and not for need. Meanwhile, Else's lover Konsul Langen (Hans Adalbert Schlettow) returns from Paris where he had heisted the safe of a bank and finds Albert and Else together in her apartment. When Konsul pushes Else on the floor, Albert defends her and himself and their fight lead to a tragic conclusion.

"Asphalt" is a dramatic German silent film and an early film-noir. The gorgeous dark-haired Betty Amann is one of the most expressive actresses I have ever seen, and her eyes are amazing in the close-ups. The sequence in the taxi with the tears in her eyes is fantastic. Her performance is remarkable and her character certainly is one of the first femme fatales of the cinema history. The dilemma of Albert Holk, shared between his duty and the seductive woman, is one of the best moments of this film. This film registers the streets of Berlin in the late 20's with a great traffic of buses and automobiles and crowded streets. The music score of this highly recommended DVD is also awesome. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Asfalto" ("Asphalt")
13 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
ASPHALT (Joe May, 1929) ***
Bunuel197616 March 2006
I wasn't familiar with the work of director Joe May - apart from THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940) and the Silent epic THE Indian TOMB (1921), a film I was disappointed by and which I always considered more of a Fritz Lang film anyway - although I had always been intrigued by this one and, now, thanks to Eureka and "Masters Of Cinema", I've managed to catch up with it.

From watching ASPHALT - followed, in short order, by SPIONE (1928) and TARTUFFE (1925) - I've reacquainted myself with the peerless craftsmanship of German cinema during the 1920s; indeed, May's film is technically quite irreproachable - particularly his depiction of city-life by night, but also the opening montage (echoing contemporaneous Russian cinema) which forms part of the title sequence. Apart from this, the film's slight but compelling plot later became a staple of the noir genre where a naïve man is embroiled in the sordid life of a femme fatale with tragic consequences (the most obvious example, ironically enough, being perhaps Fritz Lang's superlative THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW [1944]).

In this regard, the film benefits greatly from the perfect casting of the two roles but especially the captivating Betty Amann, who effortlessly exudes sexuality throughout: distracting the elderly owner of the jewel shop with her considerable charms, while casually concealing one of the precious rocks in the tip of her umbrella; seducing the young, inexperienced traffic cop by excusing herself from his presence but, when he follows her into the bedroom, finds she has slipped under the sheets and is waiting for him; when he tries to leave, she literally leaps on him and, by wrapping herself around his waist, making it practically impossible for him not to give in to her. Also notable is a brief pickpocketing scene at the beginning featuring Hans Albers; the rather violent fight between the boy and the girl's elderly associate/lover, when the latter comes back to her apartment and catches them in flagrante, in which the furniture (conveniently held by visible wires) gets literally thrown around the room; the concluding act, then, marked by a number of twists (which lead to a sort of happy ending more akin to Bresson's spiritually-infused PICKPOCKET [1959] than the hard-boiled noirs it inspired), is enormously satisfying.
28 out of 32 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Fine German silent.
zetes21 August 2011
It's a good film all around, but it's most notable for finding yet another remarkable silent beauty queen, Betty Amann, who could perhaps have been a huge star if the era had continued. With her jet-black bob-cut, she'll remind many of Louise Brooks, but, aside from a similar hairdo, she's not much like Brooks. The story concerns a cop (Metropolis' Gustav Froehlich) who picks up Amann for stealing a diamond from a jewelry store. She tries to seduce him so he'll let her go, but he's so morally upright she basically has to jump on top of him to get what she wants. Froehlich walks away from the situation bewildered, but also kind of in love with her. She, too, develops feelings for the poor little innocent, but odds are against them. Especially when her gangster boyfriend shows back up. I wouldn't quite group this among the silent masterpieces, but it's a fine film. And Amann really is wonderful (she would go on to co-star in Hitchcock's The Rich and the Strange, and she also pops up in Nancy Drew... Reporter). I think it might be a bit better known if not for the lousy title. "Asphalt" only really refers to Froehlich's job as a traffic cop, but I don't see what else it has to do with the film.
8 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
It's not her 'Asphalt'. Warning: Spoilers
'Asphalt' was directed by Joe May, a fairly talented director/producer who helped start the career of Fritz Lang, one of the greatest film directors of all time. Joe May had the misfortune to be Jewish in Hitler's Germany. Fortunately, he escaped to Hollywood. Unfortunately, none of Joe May's Hollywood films are especially important, although I enjoy his horror film 'The Invisible Man Returns'.

'Asphalt' is a turgid drama that could almost be conceived for Emil Jannings, as it fits his formula: highly respected uniformed authority figure is corrupted and humiliated by a scarlet harlot. What keeps this from becoming a Jannings vehicle is the fact that the male protagonist is a handsome virile young man, not the fleshly Jannings. Gustav Fröhlich (the young hero of 'Metropolis') stars as Albert Holk, a traffic cop in Berlin. Despite his lowly rank, Holk has expectations of a splendid career: he is utterly honest, and his father is a highly respected police sergeant.

But along comes a woman. Elsa (Betty Amann) is a beautiful young jewel thief. Escaping from her latest heist, she runs afoul of Officer Holk, but manages to ditch the evidence so that she seems to be innocent. A romance develops between the two young people. Of course, he doesn't know she's a crook. She is sincerely attracted to him, but not quite enough to give up her criminal career.

SPOILERS COMING. Hans Schlettow gives a solid performance as the villain of the piece. His character is already embroiled in a sexual relationship with Elsa. But just now he's in Paris, pretending to be a staffer at the German consulate while he plans a bank heist. Eventually he robs the bank and comes back to Berlin with the swag ... just in time to catch Elsa in the arms of the policeman. Albert kills Hans, then confesses everything to his father. The ending is plausible, although it would have been rather less plausible if this same story took place in America or Britain.

There is some excellent photography here, and some good performances from the leads. The street scenes in Berlin, pre-Hitler, are impressive. I'll rate this movie 7 in 10.
9 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Superb Direction And Modernity
FerdinandVonGalitzien13 July 2008
The first time that this German count watched Herr Joe May's "Asphalt" was during a mad Berliner soirée; the film was a wonderful and astonishing revelation, a great film due to its modernity and impeccable technical results. At the time the name of the director was written down in the decadent silent agenda as a director who would someday become famous and indeed Herr May has passed into the film history books with such superb films as "Das Indische Grabmal" (1921) and "Heimkehr" (1928).

From the very start of the film, even with the credits, Herr May's skill is established. He shows the fascinating big city and the main characters of the oeuvre ( a stylish crook, "desperate and in need", and a dutiful constable ) and skilfully uses crane shots around the streets ( MEIN GOTT!!... what an incredible and evocative atmosphere) emphasizing from that time on, the dramatic, sensual aspects of the film at once without the need of additional explanations.

As happens in many Weimar silent films, social aspects ripple beneath the surface of the story ( which concerns an unscrupulous woman and her questionable life and her obscure pimp with international interests all of which escape the innocent policeman hero ). May notes the different social classes that separate Dame Elsa ( Betty Amann ) and Herr Albert Hols ( Herr Gustav Fröhlich ), elegant and decadent for Dame Else and proletarian and common for Herr Albert ( the contrast between Dame Elsa's decadent life and Herr Albert's proletarian family are carefully depicted.) These backgrounds obviously influence their conduct and "principles", not to mention the way they both face life. Their different worlds t finally will collide hopelessly but beneath it all they are, in the end, just two lonely people ( and that's one of the most important aspect of the story ), who want to connect with each other in spite of their social and even sexual inner conflicts. Duty and law will collide with human need but redemption is also part of the mix after a painful struggle.

"Asphalt" is outstanding for its superb direction and modernity, not to mention the gorgeous and stylish Dame Betty Amann, the unquestionable and sensual star of the film thanks to the superb and wonderful Herr Günther Rittau cinematography.

And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must order one of his Teutonic heiresses to asphalt the Schloss pavement but in one of her most gorgeous costumes.

Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien http://ferdinandvongalitzien.blogspot.com/
11 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
David Jeffers for SIFFblog.com
rdjeffers28 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Weinoir and the Ufa Style

The emergence of Ufa as Germany's dominant film production company in 1921 brought a unifying, identifiable look and character to Weimar film. Parallels may be drawn between this development in German film history and the consolidation of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in Hollywood. Both studios formed as the result of larger partners, consolidating with smaller companies, to create what were in effect, monopolies. Ufa, formed in 1917, purchased many smaller studios, most notably Decla-Bioscop in 1921, bringing with it producer Erich Pommer who was running Ufa within two years. Similarly, Marcus Loew's Metro bought out Mayer Pictures in 1924, bringing Louis B. Mayer's young phenom, Irving Thalberg along as MGM's head of production. Both studios, Ufa in Germany (including greater Europe) and MGM in North America, defined the standards for motion pictures in their respective markets and exerted considerable influence.

Beyond their initial successes however, the two mega-studios took increasingly divergent paths. As severe economic depression smothered the Weimar Republic, Germany's film industry struggled to survive, losing key talent (Lubitch, Leni, Murnau) from their ranks to the wealth and prosperity of Hollywood. While MGM thrived, Fritz Lang's futuristic nightmare, Metropolis (1927) failed at the box office, leaving Ufa teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. In spite of their financial hardships, German filmmakers flourished creatively throughout the nineteen-twenties. Ufa films consistently evoked a dark, architectural and Gothic style with features such as Varieté (1925), Faust (1926) and Asphalt (1929), making use of brilliant creative advances in art direction and production design, which in turn would significantly influence Hollywood.

Asphalt (1929)

Monday January 29, 7:00pm, The Paramount Theater

A frenzy of murderous violence and moral turpitude lurk just beneath the urban order of Asphalt (1929). Joe May (The Indian Tomb, 1921) wrote (as Fred Majo) and directed this Ufa pot-boiler about a beautiful thief and the cop she seduces to stay out of jail.

The controlled chaos of the city is seen through a series of abstract images, beginning with the boots of workmen as they pound hot asphalt into a flat surface. In a montage of crane shots that soar over pedestrians and traffic, May introduces the hard intensity of city life. The camera descends slowly to the street where Sergeant Albert Holk, played by Gustav Fröhlich (Metropolis, 1927) is directing traffic from a concrete island. Naïve and inexperienced, Albert still lives with his Mother (Else Heller) and Father (Albert Steinrück), a Chief Sergeant. The young policeman commands the speeding cars, trucks and buses with confident authority and measured control. On a sidewalk, pickpockets work a crowd of onlookers, distracted by a young woman in lingerie as she moves behind a storefront window. In a jewelry store around the corner, Elsa Kramer (Betty Amann) examines several large diamonds on a velvet cloth while the gray-haired jeweler stands waiting. She flirts with the old man and while he blushes, she cleverly steals a jewel. Within seconds of her leaving the jeweler's son chases Elsa down and summons the closest policeman, which happens to be Albert. When the diamond is found (on the tip of Elsa's umbrella) Albert arrests her and they rush outside to a waiting car. Through her histrionics, Elsa persuades Albert to take her home so she can collect her identification papers. As they enter her apartment, the implied understanding of Elsa's profession is followed by Albert's seduction, and his moral foundations crumble.

Hostility in a modern world, consuming sexuality, crime, and its consequences are the solid building blocks of Joe May's Asphalt, produced by Erich Pommer, photographed by Günther Rittau (Siegfried, 1924 Metropolis 1927, The Blue Angel 1930), with art direction by Erich Kettelhut (The Indian Tomb 1921, Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler 1922, Metropolis & Berlin, Symphony of a Big City 1927). Lotte Eisner observed that Asphalt " … is a cogent example of the use that Ufa commercial films made of the results of artistic research. May uses everything." A dark and moody love story, Asphalt clearly influenced and anticipates the coming of film noir.
8 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
Love, Tragedy and Redemption in Weimar Berlin
Screen_O_Genic13 October 2021
Taking on a simple and stereotypical plot "Asphalt" brings on melodrama through an Expressionist lens. A striking femme fatale takes on the profession of thievery using her charms and wiles. When the law catches up her feminine flair for seduction saves her temporarily as tragedy inevitably follows. Fine acting and directing make this vintage timepiece worth the watch and of course, Betty Amann. Her doe-eyed, porcelain complexion and mannequin-like features are among the most memorably attractive in cinema history. And the glimpse into the Jazz Age with the fashion, automobiles and its distinct and unique vibe is a world of charm in itself. The pedestrian plot and the film's inability to transcend it make this quite the dull and tedious slog despite its watchability and the touchingly moving ending. An interesting relic from one of the most fascinating eras in world history this aesthetic in black and white still holds up.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
An old story, beautifully filmed
netwallah22 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Produced by Murnau, and brilliantly directed by May, this silent drama is a masterpiece of cinematography. From the opening montages, with workmen tamping down hot asphalt and the steamrollers behind them and the rain-wet streets shining in the street lights, to the traffic slanting across the street while the young policeman directs traffic, to the change in the lighting at his home after he feels he has fallen—he stands in shadow while down the hall in a halo of light his mother is busy in the kitchen, as if he were observing another world—to the expressionist shadows on the staircases toward the end—it's magnificently conceived and photographed. The lighting effects are astonishing. The story is not profound, involving an upright young traffic policeman falling under the spell of a diamond-thieving courtesan (Bette Amman), and when they are surprised in her bedroom by her regular lover, an older diplomat, who hurls the woman to the ground, the young man defends her, and himself, with the result that the man dies. He goes home and tells his parents he has killed a man, and the father, also a policeman, stands up, puts on his dress helmet, and they go downtown. But the woman intervenes, calmly incriminating herself to save the young man. She is taken away to prison, but the young man says he will wait for her, and she looks at him with eyes brimming with tears, and a smile. Amman has impossibly big dark eyes and a helmet of bobbed, curly hair. Her cloche hats give her head a sculptural look, and she also moves sometimes with astonishing sensual power, as when she throws herself on the young policeman, winding her arms around his neck, her toes clinging to his boot-tops, her huge luminous eyes inches from his. In the early part of the film she is hard and manipulative, but at the end she has been shaken by real feeling and humanized. Okay, it's an old story, riddled with cliché, but in this treatment it works, largely because the film is so beautifully shot.
16 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
The Dutiful Officer and the Seductive Jewel Thief
movingpicturegal3 August 2006
Outstanding German silent era crime drama; an early film noir about a young traffic officer who gets involved with a femme fatale he has just arrested for stealing a diamond from a jeweler's shop. This spit-curled, dark-haired beauty attempts to use tears, tricks, Cognac, a pillow-laden couch proportioned like a king-sized bed, and finally a black-laced bodysuit/nightie to seduce our officer into letting her off. These two soon become emotionally involved with each other, but the officer is feeling guilt over shirking his duty to arrest her.

The photography in this film is really excellent - the film as a whole is very visual, with lots of facial close-ups, softly filtered lighting along with shadowy rooms and hallways, and an interesting montage at the beginning of the asphalt streets of Berlin and it's fast moving crowds of people and traffic, all shown with interesting overlapped and angled photography. The actors all give excellent, emotional performances. The actress, Betty Amann, who portrays the thief is especially good here, seducing both our officer and the viewer with just her eyes, showing a great range of emotion in close-up. The print on the DVD of this looks good, the orchestral score is really great and suits this to a tea. I have seen many, many silent films and I would certainly count this one among the best I've seen.
29 out of 31 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
marvelous visual & thematic template
goblinhairedguy5 August 2004
Joe May's "Asphalt" is not as well remembered as the other masterpieces of German silent expressionist cinema, possibly due to the lack of immortals in the cast and its decidedly commercial scenario. But it certainly deserves a mention alongside the great works of Lang, Pabst, Murnau, et al. The cop-seduced-by-the-sexy-crook plot is the prototype for many a great (and not-so-great) film noir to come, and the seduction scene certainly packs a punch. Like most films of the time, it eventually descends into melodrama, but Gunther Rittau's remarkably mobile and probing camera is so skillful in revealing the characters' thoughts and lending pathos to their plight that he and the director transcend the clichés in the manner of Stahl and Ophuls, with some Langian irony peeking through at times. The opening profile of the city is a justly famed visual tour-de-force, but the stark, expressionist compositions that highlight the climax are just as striking and iconic. May never made the big time in Hollywood, but spun a few good programmers for the B picture mill.
26 out of 29 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
4/10
Unlikeable Femme-Fatale Saga
thinbeach3 October 2016
Its hard to like 'Asphalt' simply because the lead characters are so unlikeable. A policeman who is too weak to stand by his moral compass falls for a seductive jewel thief. The film consists of his attempts to refrain from her seductions, feeling low after his failures, then going back only to fail again. It is fine for half an hour or so (the first half hour is the best), but becomes tedious and quickly loses momentum. It doesn't help that these femme-fatale stories were so overdone already.

The most winning aspect of this film is the technical achievements. After a shaky Vertov-esque beginning, it quickly becomes sleek and controlled, very modern. The noir cinematography is typically excellent for the German silents of the time.

Despite these virtues however, it is not a story that moves you in any way, except to strong dislike of the characters.
0 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Joe May's tale of forbidden self-abnegation asks whose ass is really at fault?
Ziggy544628 October 2007
From its elaborate and stylish opening scenes, Asphalt immediately establishes itself as a startling achievement. This unforgettable film is in many ways the perfect summation of German film-making in the silent era: a dazzling visual style, a psychological approach to its characters, and the ability to take a simple and essentially melodramatic story and turn it into something more complex and inherently cinematic. Although influenced by such classics as The Last Laugh and Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, Asphalt is a unique look at urban life and a classic in its own right.

The plot in Asphalt is very simple: a woman caught trying to shoplift a diamond seduces the cop entrusted with bringing her to justice and the cop pays an very high cost for his lapse in judgment, but great films don't require elaborate plots to achieve their greatness. Betty Amann, the female lead who looks like a mash-up of Louise Brooks and Betty Boop, is sensuous and sultry but not cartoonishly so. In other words, she's no Theda Bara and thank goodness for that. Perhaps if she was a cult goddess like Brooks, Asphalt would be no different than the G.W. Pabst classic Pandora's Box. It is completely baffling why Amann never became a star. Amann is paired greatly with Gustav Fröhlich, who is remembered for his performance in Fritz Lang's classic Metropolis, you will be surprised at his range here. Emotionally naked, Fröhlich goes from anger to tenderness, and then to craven denial when faced with the consequences of a violent act.

Asphalt is directed by Joe May, a leading German filmmaker of the 1910s and 1920s who is also known for the two-part epic The Indian Tomb. In addition, he helped to launch the career of Fritz Lang. Like Lang, May later relocated to Hollywood, where he directed several classic B-films, most notably The Invisible Man Returns. But Asphalt remains perhaps his most famous, and his greatest, work. However, May's handling of individual scenes is impressive. Reality is put in its place when location shots of the city are followed by a breathtaking Expressionist caricature of what we've just been shown, with the camera craning and tracking through throngs of extras and fleets of vehicles on UFA's enormous street set.

As Dave Kehr from the New York Times said, "Asphalt reveals a filmmaker of astonishing technical skills and a distinctive visual style, based on a use of raked sets to create a sense of precariousness and claustrophobia." Brilliant!!!
22 out of 26 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Late UFA silent shows style trumping content as a Tru-Blue Cop is vamped by a femme fatale thief.
maksquibs14 May 2007
UFA helmer Joe May, once spoken of in tandem with F W Murnau or Fritz Lang, ended his career struggling for gigs on B-list Hollywood fodder. But this late silent, a superb psychological meller lovingly restored with a fine new score on KINO DVD, shows him in top form. It's the old story of a naive cop corrupted by a shady lady. He bends the rules for a night of love. But when her rich lover returns, tragedy strikes, and his disgrace can only be erased through her redemption. Thrillingly designed & shot in a studio-created Berlin, May uses the camera with Murnau-like freedom & expressivity, only stumbling over the pacing of a few scenes he has trouble ending. Gustav Frohlich will always be stamped by his silly perf in Lang's METROPOLIS, but in this more naturalistic mode, he's touching & handsome. As the femme fatale, Betty Amann leaves an odd taste. She's an obvious precursor/model for Liza Minnelli's Sally Bowles in CABARET (had Bob Fosse seen this film?), but she's also a dead ringer for Tony Curtis in his drag mode in Billy Wilder's SOME LIKE IT HOT. Perhaps not as much of a stretch as it sounds since Wilder was @ UFA in '29 and even wrote May's first Hollywood pic. (05/13/07)
16 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
A genuine silent Noir
AaronIgay3 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I've been watching the proto-noirs of this era and this is the first film which I would say fits smack dab in the subjective category of pure noir. A grimy city, stark photography, a femme fatale, an unapologetic somber ending, and even a wrongly-accused man. At the close of the silent era, this UFA production with all the big names in the German film industry made what Hollywood was doing look amateurish. I loved the scenes early on showing the traffic in Berlin, Opel 4/16s trying to compete with double-decker buses and our hapless hero the traffic cop stuck in the middle of the chaos. I could have done with a little more help from the inter-titles, many utterances went unwritten. But then again, words just get in the way anyway.
5 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Unbelievably sexy, move over Bow and Brooks!
jpb5828 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This late German silent film, Asphalt, was incredibly fun! It's an amazing treasure and treat for the eyes (and ears: it boasts a marvelous jazz score on the DVD that is perfect for the film!). No spoken dialogue needed in Asphalt to communicate sensuality, and in fact dialogue would ruin the intensity of this incredible film. An added plus is seeing Berlin in 1929, with all its decadence before National Socialist Hitler moved in and spoiled things in 1933.

Starring the adorable, funny, and sensual Betty Amann, and the handsome Gustav Fröhlich from Metropolis, Asphalt tells the story of a puritan traffic cop (Gustav) who is tempted to sin with a jewel thief (Betty). His devoted parents trust him entirely and maybe that's part of his problem: he's been pampered and treated like a pet more than a son, obviously cushioned from much unpleasantry in life. In fact the father of the cop has his own pet, a little canary in a cage, and the mother of the cop has her son for her pet! In the art of silent film the director can emphasize small things like these and keep the audience's interest perked through symbolism. In sound films there rarely seems to be time devoted to this kind of creativity.

My favorite scene is the long one where the cop has arrested the jewel thief and she cries and cries and cries (with the music making moaning sounds that are hilarious) and she tries to win his sympathy. She tries every trick in her book to keep from being taken to the police station. She begs him to take her to her apartment so she can get her papers. Exasperated with her, he does so. Once there the poor cop doesn't stand a chance. The climax of that scene really stunned me. I could swear Betty Amann said the F word, though of course I could be wrong because the film is German. ;) There's a somewhat predictable ending but it's how the director, Joe May, spins it all together, with artful, passionate camera-work, that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The two leads give incredible performances, especially Betty Amann. She had even more fire and intelligence in her portrayal of the jewel thief than any performance I've seen given by Clara Bow or Louise Brooks. Her career should have been better. The only other film I've seen her in is an early Hitchcock sound film Rich and Strange (1931). Gustav Fröhlich also shows a more tender side here than in Metropolis.

A marvelous late German silent that must be seen to be believed. If you haven't watched it yet you are REALLY missing out! Don't get turned off by the unromantic title. Get it today!
10 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
The Big Discovery Here is Betty Amann
inthamiddleofthenight15 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Asphalt (1929) begins stylishly with a city montage sequence and plenty of Germanic-styled subjective point of view shots before giving way to a more subdued, intimate Kammerspiel style. A Clara Bow/Louise Brooks look-a-like (Betty Amann) is shopping for jewelry. The storeowner, entranced by her salacious behavior, does not notice when a handful of diamonds fall to the floor. The woman uses the hollowed out bottom of her umbrella to steal one of the diamonds. She is eventually caught, but pleads poverty, which convinces the shopkeeper not to press charges. However, the arresting officer, played by Gustav Fröhlich, plays by the books and insists on bringing her to the police station. The woman asks if they can go by her apartment for her papers. Once in her apartment the seduction begins full throttle. The entrance into her sexual den is given special treatment with a slow, circular panning shot from the officer's point of view. His resistance is admirable, but not impenetrable. She tries everything, including lying in wait in her bed. When all seems to fail and the officer is about to leave she hops out of the bed and literally jumps into his arms, melting his final resolve with passionate stares and heavy breathing. The theme is a common one in German expressionism: the fall/degeneration of the moral upstanding male at the hands of a woman (Pandora's Box, Blue Angel) or social forces (The Last Laugh, The Last Command, American but Germanic in feel). But May handles it subtly and with an erotic-sexual undertone one finds most strikingly in German cinema of the late twenties (Blue Angel, Pandora's Box, Metropolis, Variety, etc.). The film also reflects social critic Siegfried Kracauer's point on pre-Hitler German cinema about the presence of the weak male figure. The young officer's moral and ethical resolve is broken down by the woman's sexual advances, to the point where he accidentally murders the woman's gangster lover in a fist fight after he returns home to unexpectedly find him there (the murder is shot through a mirror reflection). However, when the policeman returns home and tells his parents, the father, also a policeman, does not hesitate to don his police uniform and arrest his son. In the end, the police officer is exonerated by the woman's guilt of complicity. She is arrested, and the final image sees her walking away along a corridor filmed through a prison-like door. As an historical aside, in an underground scene where city workers lay out asphalt, we see a sinewy camera movement along the ground that foreshadows the similar documentary-like camera movements in Pabst's Kammeradscahft (1931).
10 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews


Recently Viewed