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GODS OF THE PLAGUE (Götter der Pest)(director/writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder; cinematographer: Dietrich Lohmann; editor: Rainer Werner Fassbinder; music: Peer Raben; cast: Hanna Schygulla (Johanna Reiher), Margarethe von Trotta (Margarethe), Harry Baer (Franz Walsch), Günther Kaufmann (Günther), Carla Aulaulu (Carla), Ingrid Caven (Magdalena Fuller), Jan George (Police), Lilo Pempeit (Mother), Marian Seidowsky (Marian), Micha Cochina (Joe), Yaak Karsunke (Commissar), Hannes Gromball (Supermarket-Chef); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Michael Fengler/Rainer Werner Fassbinder; New Yorker Films; 1970–West Germany-in German with English subtitles)
“Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s homage to American gangster films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Gods of the Plague is Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s homage to American gangster films. It was considerably improved when it was remade in the same year as The American Soldier. It’s set in Munich in a strictly movieland setting that apes American film noir, with gangsters talking tough and sporting trenchcoats and fedoras, while the babes have cancer sticks dangling from their purring lips and have jaded looks as they languorously hang around the city’s hot nightspots.

The film has a slight plot, is stylish and though absurd the dialogue is inanely witty. It has a taciturn petty criminal named Franz Walsch (Harry Baer) just released from prison and returning to his old underworld haunts, where the gangsters play cards, peddle porn and act like hoods. Franz’s cheap nightclub chanteuse girlfriend Johanna Reiher (Hanna Schygulla) has taken up with a cop (Jan George). Schygulla is pleasing as she does a Marlene Dietrich singing act, as seen in such Josef von Sternberg films as The Blue Angel. Being rejected doesn’t deter the handsome Franz, as he immediately takes up with sexy blonde Margarethe (Margarethe Von Trotta). Franz’s plan is to hook up with a criminal friend who has the distinction of killing his own brother and is called by the nickname of “Gorilla” (Günther Kaufman, Fassbinder’s lover at the time). They eventually meet and Margarethe services both dudes. The boys when not screwing around plan out a supermarket robbery. Margarethe, for some cash, blabs about the robbery to Johanna, who betrays her ex-boyfriend to her cop boyfriend.

Fassbinder catches the noir atmosphere, the lowlife criminal way of life and any social commentary that might be there is to be taken from watching all these shifty characters in action and catching the drift of their existence. It’s minor Fassbinder but, nevertheless, is a fairly good watch.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”