(director/writer: Sam Fuller; cinematographer: Joseph F. Biroc; editor: Philip Cahn; music: Harry Sukman; cast: James Best (Sgt. David Brent), Susan Cummings (Helga Schiller), TomPittman (Bruno Eckart), Harold Daye (Franz Schiller), Dick Kallman (Helmuth Strasser),Joe Turkel (Infantryman), Paul Dubov (Captain Harvey), Stuart Randall (Colonel), Steven Geray (Mayor), Sasha Harden (Eric Heiden); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Fuller; The Warner Archive Collection; 1959)
“Enjoyable and educational hard-hitting record of Nazi atrocities.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Sam Fuller(“The Crimson Kimono”/”Scandal Sheet”/”White Dog”) directs this enjoyable and educational hard-hitting record of Nazi atrocities, but somewhat loopy and uneven World War II post-war melodrama set in occupied Germany immediately after the fall of the Third Reich. Eschewing subtlety, Fuller’s blend of romance and politics clues us in on how messy things were back then in trying to bring democracy to an impoverished Germany. Paul Anka sings the title song during the opening credits. Later on Fuller effectively uses the newsreels of the Nuremberg Trials to show the evil faces of the Nazi war criminals on trial.
Near the end of World War II, three brave American infantrymen are looking for snipers in the largely destroyed small German town of Rothbach, while on the soundtrack we hear Beethoven’s 9th blasting away. Two of the Americans are killed, while Sgt. David Brent (James Best) is wounded. Finding a house to get out of harm’s way, the sergeant has his wound dressed by the young fraulein Helga Schiller (Susan Cummings). Meanwhile her younger 15-year-old brother Franz (Harold Daye ), a bitter Nazi about losing his arm during a bombing raid and his Germany losing the war, is a member of the Hitler Youth and looks unkindly at the American. But Franz decides to keep quiet about the American, fearing if he said anything to the retreating German troops his sister’s life would be endangered. Helga, after some speechifying, convinces David that not all Germans are Nazis and hides him when SS troops appear. The grateful sergeant gives Helga a letter she could show, if needed, that she’s not a Nazi but helped save his life, as he rejoins his advancing outfit who are mopping up the retreating enemy. After recovering from his wounds in a military hospital, the war ends and David’s set to be shipped home. But he talks his colonel (Stuart Randall) into letting him remain in Rothbach as a civilian working in the food department for the American Military Government. Since David’s now a civilian, it’s not forbidden (verboten) for him to marry Helga as it would be if he were a soldier. Meanwhile Bruno (Thomas Pittman), Helga’s neighbor, an embittered German soldier who lost his family and girlfriend during the war, states that Germany has not been defeated, merely occupied. This doesn’t prevent Helga from assisting him to get a job in her husband’s workplace. The twisted Bruno organizes from the survivors of the Hitler Youth “Werewolf,” a local a neo-Nazi chapter in Rothbach. The national organization was created by war-criminal Himmler. There aim is to kill Americans, help war criminals escape from Germany, and sabotage the American peacetime efforts by looting food and medical supplies, which they sell on the black market, and to eventually return the Nazis to Germany.
When Helga takes her wide-eyed brother to witness the Nuremberg Trials of the war criminals, the young pup has an enlightening experience and discovers Hitler began by killing all Germans who opposed him and learns about the horrors of the Holocaust. When Franz returns to Rothbach he informs David on Bruno and discloses where the Werewolf have their secret meeting place. When David informs Captain Harvey (Paul Dubov), his workplace military boss, the Werewolf headquarters are raided and put out of business.
I think Fuller fans will take to this pic more than others, but if not one of his ace war movies (like The Big Red One, Fixed Bayonets and The Steel Helmet) it’s still a powerful one and has more complexities than your standard issue Hollywood war movie. Fuller’s storytelling shakes its fist in anger at Germany for allowing a lunatic like Hitler to begin small in 1919 and rise to absolute power in the 1930s, and that it’s criminal for the so-called sane German people not to say anything about concentration camps and all the other fascist horrors that made their country barbaric. Fuller served in the First U.S. Infantry Division during WWII and was in the unit that liberated a Nazi concentration camp near Falkenau.
REVIEWED ON 7/28/2013 GRADE: B+