Postwar Berlin, Hollywood Style

Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman is an upgraded version of Curt (Kurt) Siodmak’s better, leaner, and more fun 1941 script, The Wolf Man, but prior to writing that classic Universal monster movie, Siodmak had written some very striking films during his early years in Germany.

Among his best-known works from the pre-Nazi era are F.P.1 antwortet nicht / F.P.1. Doesn’t Answer (1932), which dealt with a giant airport in the middle of the ocean for long distance flights; and the English version of Der Tunnel / The Transatlantic Tunnel (1933), about an underwater tunnel that links Europe with the U.S.

In the case of F.P.1., there were English and German versions with different directors/cast, whereas The Tunnel was filmed in German, French and English versions for specific markets. (I’ll eventually have reviews comparing the various versions in a future series of reviews.)

Siodmak was the brother of famous director Robert Siodmak (The Killers, The Crimson Pirate), and when Curt settled in the U.S., he quickly found his talents being used for monster and sci-fi films, notably Donavan’s Brain (based on his novel), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), The Beast with Five Fingers (1946), and the Swedish horror anthology 13 Demon Street (1961), of which three episodes were re-edited into the feature film The Devil’s Messenger (1961).

A rare foray into realism happened in 1948 when he wrote the story for what became Berlin Express, the first Hollywood studio film shot in postwar Berlin. Basically a mystery thriller about pro-Nazi insurgents out to kidnap and kill a progressive German who seeks to unify the broken country with the aid of victory powers America, France, Britain, and the Soviet Union, it was a low budget RKO production with pretty good pedigree: the director was Jacques Tourneur (I Walked with a Zombie), starred Merle Oberon, the great Robert Ryan, Paul Lukas, and Fritz Kortner, was filmed by Lucien Ballard, and scored by Frederick Hollander.

The film also featured real postwar locations (Frankfurt, and a little bit of Berlin), and a progressive philosophy about banding together and making the world a better place, which didn’t really happen when the Cold War and Red Menace kicked into gear a few years later.

As a postwar film, it’s a curio, but it’s also intriguing to see a level of (liberal) optimism which wasn’t present in other films shot in Berlin, including Carol Reed’s The Man Between (1953), and Nunnally Johnson’s The Night People (1954), which had Gregory Peck starring as a U.S. officer coordinating a prisoner swap when East German thugs use a kidnapped American soldier as bait for the handover of anti-Communist double-agents hiding out in the American Sector.

Night People was an early CinemaScope production and was shot on location in postwar Berlin, but Johnson was still a novice director, and the film has many flaws that make it tough to endure in spite of getting an Oscar nomination for Best Story.

Berlin Express recently aired on TCM as part of the station’s tribute to the fall of the Berlin Wall, so I’ve uploaded a review of the film which still doesn’t exist on DVD in Region 1 land. I’ve also uploaded a review of The Night People, which is a glossy Fox production that’s not available on DVD either, but one can apparently download the film (full screen only…) from if one lives in the U.S.

Once upon a time Fox was bringing out beautiful special editions of their classic back catalogue, with historically important extras and fine transfers… now they just don’t give a damn about the films that built their back catalogues.

What a waste.



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