Thursday, February 2, 2012

Berlin Express (1948)



“Bernhardt had a long proven record on international affairs. His report was sharp and concise. Facts and figures about turning the four allied zones of Germany into a single unified country.”

            I love how the poster for Berlin Express says in bold fancy lettering “Trapped on a Train of Terror!”. That makes the film sound as if this was made by Hitchcock. Unfortunately this was not made by the Master of Suspense otherwise it could have gone over a lot better not been less of a bore.
            The story is very interesting, almost like Murder on the Orient Express (I have a feeling this is where the plot of the story came from). A German, Frenchman and woman, an American, a Russian, and a Brit are traveling on a train from Paris to Frankfurt and from there take a train to Berlin. Each one has an important assignment to tend to in Germany. They are traveling in an American run line used for important people, soldiers, and any diplomatic need. The German is a man named Dr. Heinrich Bernhardt he is supposed to be giving a talk about how to unify his country.  A few minutes after an unexpected stop, the doctor walks into his room and bomb goes off killing him.
            All the passengers are taken off the train and taken to US headquarters in Frankfurt to be questioned. While there we learn that the man who was killed is not the real Bernhardt but a decoy the real doctor is still alive traveling with his French secretary Lucienne (Merle Oberon). He tells the others who is once the interview is over.
            At the train station the doctor sees a friend of his from before the War. He only stops to talk to this friend when they are blocked from the views of Lucienne and an American MP. When the baggage rolls away the doctor and the friend are gone. Lucienne begs the Brit, American, Frenchman, and Russian for help in looking for the doctor. They agree and their quest to find Dr. Bernhardt almost gets them killed by former Nazis looking to stop the doctor’s plans for peace and destabilize the government.
            So the plot sounds like it would make an interesting Hitchcock film and it would but since the Master did not make this film it fell very flat. The direction is completely uninspiring which is a shame because Jacques Tournuer directed I Walked with a Zombie and that is one of my favorite films. The acting is not good at all. I do not even know why I downloaded the film because I do not like Merle Oberon at all. She was not terrible but she was not good.
            What was very interesting about Berlin Express was that some footage was actually filmed in Paris and Germany. The voiceovers talk about justice and defeat of the Germans and my god does that impact hit you as you are watching actual footage of this devastated country. They also showed how there was plenty of hostility towards Americans from the conquered Germans. Not something you always see in cheerful classic films. I actually really liked how all the characters were introduced through the voice over and the camera pans from one room to the next. I would not totally write off seeing Berlin Express because it is important in that no films during that time were actually filmed in Germany after the War or showed hostility towards Americans. Also the story is not too bad if you can get past the bad acting and the uninspired direction. See the film at least once if you can find it.