Friday, July 27, 2018
Dark Shadows in Berlin
This is my entry in the "non-English" Language Blogathon hosted by Thoughts All Sorts
One of the classics of pre-war, pre-Hitler German cinema, according to historical references the movie almost didn't get made. When Fritz Lang, the director, announced his plans to film a movie called Mörder unter uns, the head of his studio, Staaken, denied him the space to use to film it. Still prior to Hitler's rise to power, but the Nazi party had its adherents even then, one of whom was the studio head. He and the Nazi Party both suspected it was going to be a veiled condemnation of the Nazis, and as such Lang was denied the use of the studio. Only after Lang assured them that it was not going to a political movie was he allowed to film it at Staaken.
Lang's first film to incorporate sound, also almost didn't get made as is because Lang had a reluctance to film the movie with sound. But certain parts of it prove that once he got into the use of sound, he had an ability to use it to maximum effect.
The movie opens with a scene of children playing and chanting a rather dark rhyme about some secretive shadowy stalker. One of the mothers listening tells the children to stop chanting that dark rhyme but kids being kids they start it back up anyway. The woman in question is waiting for her daughter to return home from school. There have been several incidents of children disappearing and she is concerned, but not too worried. At least until lunch time has come and gone and no daughter shows.
This is because, by now, her daughter has become another victim to this scourge of the city. Although no one knows he is anything other than just an average citizen, Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) roams the streets following little children. He spies his prey and poses as a friendly stranger, buying balloons and candy for his victim, later killing them.
He has sent letters to the police and newspaper, taunting them, something like Jack the Ripper, and the police, under intense pressure from the public, increase their focus on finding this scoundrel. They put pressure on the criminal world, and disrupt regular criminal activities in ther zeal to discover the identity of the murderer.
As a result, the criminal world puts their own network to work in trying to find out who he is. They use beggars and street people to keep a watch out for suspicious activity. One of the street people, a blind man who sells ballonns, remembers a man who whistled Edvard Grieg's "In the hall of the Mountain King". (And after watching this movie you may become a little apprehensive every time you hear the tune outside of the movie).
Eventually the criminals are the ones who capture Beckert and bring him to an abandoned warehouse where he is forced to stand trial before what is essentially the entire criminal contingent of the city. Talk about a jury of your own peers! Beckert has the benefit of a man who is supposed to be his defense attorney. During the trial he breaks down with an impassioned plea, stating basically that he is compelled by his own mind to do these terrible things (basically trying to use an insanity defense), but the jury is unrelenting, and pronounces him guilty, giving him a death sentence.
Then his defense attorney takes over, berating the criminal society and telling them they have no right to declare judgement on the man. What happens next is very interesting.
The movie was Lorre's first starring role, but the after effect was he was typecast as a criminal and undesirable in many of his subsequent roles. But it did show his incredible acting ability.
Well folks, time to go home. Drive safely.