Der amerikanische Soldat (1970)

AMERICAN SOLDIER, THE (Der Amerikanische Soldat)

(director/writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder; cinematographer: Dietrich Lohmann; editor: Thea Eymèsz; music: Peer Raben; cast: Karl Scheydt (Ricky), Elge Sorbas (Rosa von Praunheim), Jan George (Policeman, Jan), Hark Bohm (Policeman, Doc), Eva Ingeborg Scholz (Mother), Margarethe von Trotta (Hotel maid), Kurt Raab (Brother), Ingrid Caven (Singer), Kathrin Schaake (Pornographer, Magdalena Fuller), Ulli Lommel (Gypsy), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Franz Walsh), Gustl Datz (Police Chief), Marius Aicher (Policeman, Max), Irm Hermann (Whore), Peer Raben (Hotel Receptionist); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Kurt Raab; New Yorker Films; 1970-West Germany-in German with English subtitles)

“It’s a strange film noir, but its unyielding manic mood, unpredictability and boldness cover up some of its incomprehensible moments.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is Rainer Werner Fassbinder (“Ali—Fear Eats the Soul”/”In a Year of Thirteen Moons”) seemingly playing without a full-deck in his stylized, ludicrous, misogynist, homoerotic, unconventional and darkly perceived homage to American gangster films; in particular to Hollywood directors Sam Fuller and Raoul Walsh and, even to, German directors F. W. Murnau and Rosa von Praunheim (all names of characters in the film). It’s a strange film noir, but its unyielding manic mood, unpredictability and boldness cover up some of its incomprehensible moments (Ex, a hotel maid (Margarethe von Trotta) committing suicide in a stagy way in the hallwall of the hotel after rejected by her lover over the phone and two guests walk by without lifting a finger to help, acting as if she was as unimportant as a dead gnat).

Ricky von Rezzori (Karl Scheydt) is a German returning to Munich after serving in the American army in the Vietnam War (he lived for fourteen years in Munich with his middle-class mother (Eva Ingeborg Scholz) and pianist brother (Kurt Raab), who has a crush on him, before his father abandoned them and he chose to live with his father in America–but they no longer keep contact). He meets his underground contact man Franz Walsh (Rainer Werner Fassbinder), who sets him up with a number of contract killings for a team of three crooked detectives Jan (Jan George), Doc (Hark Bohm) and Max (Marius Aicher). The police are stymied in their attempts to get evidence against an underworld figure, a gypsy named Tony El-Quitano (Ulli Lommel), and a lady involved in porno and selling info on the street, Magdalena Fuller (Kathrin Schaake), and have no scruples using the killer to do their bidding (they are under pressure from the public to have the city with the least crime and most arrests). Ricky spends about five minutes of his time visiting mom and his lovesick brother in their apartment, that has both a piano and pinball machine in the living-room. After finishing off his assignments he asks the hotel manager for a woman to be sent to his hotel room, and the manager gets word back from the police that they’re sending over one of their own molls–Rosa von Praunheim (Elge Sorbas)–to spy on the killer. Rosa makes the mistake of falling for the killer and telling this to Jan, who goes into a jealous rage and takes out a hit on the two-timing moll with the cold-blooded killer. The police then come after the killer before he can leave by train, as they have no more use for him and take him down with Franz as he’s diverted for a second when hearing his mom call out to him (mother’s are deadly in Fassbinder films, even when they love their children).

All the characters imitate how those in Hollywood gangster films act and since all the characters in those pics are dehumanized and not real, killing becomes as easy as playing a pinball game. The men wear fedoras outside and inside, they treat women like objects and violence is as natural as drinking whiskey. The macho hired killer, close only to his male buddy Franz, is the same person who has returned from legally killing “gooks” in Vietnam, which sums up Fassbinder’s comments on the war and America’s penchant for making hypocritical films and fighting wars over hypocritical ideals.