Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on May 1, 1948
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Written by Harold Medford, from a story by Curt Siodmak
Cast: Robert Ryan, Merle Oberon, Paul Lukas, Charles Korvin, Reinhold Schünzel, Robert Coote, Charles McGraw, Roman Toporow, Peter von Zerneck, Otto Waldis, Fritz Kortner, Gene Evans, David Clarke, Michael Harvey, Paul Stewart (narrator)
In Paris after WWII, a cryptic message on a small slip of paper—21:45 – D – 9850 – Sulzbach—is found by children playing under the Eiffel Tower, strapped to the leg of a dead bird. The note is taken to the police, and then to the French authorities, who notify other occupation headquarters—American, British, and Russian—about their find. The problem is, no one knows what the message means: at 9:45 on what day, and which Sulzbach? And more importantly, why was it written in German script?
This scenario sets up a sharp, serpentine post-war kidnapping tale directed with his usual flair by Jacques Tourneur, who established the characters and conflict nicely, then proceeded to take the viewer on a tour of war-ravaged Frankfurt and Berlin, integrating bombed-out buildings and landscapes into the story and giving one a rare look at the affect of war on Germany. Robert Ryan, Merle Oberon, and Paul Lukas lead a dissimilar cast of characters brought together by an assassination bombing in their train car; they soon join forces in tracking down Lukas’ German peace activist, who is abducted from a train station and vanishes.
Tourneur threw some pretty cool noir visuals on the screen as well (he’d directed the stellar Out of the Past just one year earlier) and he kept the pace swift, while Curt Siodmak’s twist-filled story kept you thinking and guessing throughout. Part of the fun was following this disparate group of international compatriots—American, British, German, Russian, and French—as they traversed seedy sections of dilapidated cities searching for clues to Lukas’ disappearance, as revelation after revelation played out in front of Tourneur’s expert camera frame. He took what should have been ordinary shots and turned them into photographic works of art.
I’ve liked Ryan in every film of his I’ve seen, from his noir films of the 1940s and Westerns of the 1950s, all the way to the war movies of his later years. And he’s just as good here, portraying his character Lindley as strong, sensible, and smart, and though the other actors were great in their roles (including noir vet Charles McGraw in a small part), it was Ryan who stood out. This was a very well-done wartime mystery from Tourneur, packed into an efficient 87 minutes and combining a well-written espionage story with the best visual elements of film noir. Definitely worth a look! (8/10)