Movie Night: Die Brücke

“It’s hard to think of a better illustration of the end of the European theater of war free of the pernicious and ubiquitous American boo-yah of so many countless war films.”

From 1959: «Die Brücke (The Bridge)». Sure it’s an anti-war war film. But it also works as horror: you know what these teens are about to suffer as the film moves from happy school days with worries about English class, liquor, a boat and some girls to its inevitable conclusion, and you want to shout, “Don’t go in that basement [on that bridge]!” For a first-time film director, Bernhard Wicki sure knew what he was doing. This is German cinema at its finest.

The synopsis:

“A group of German boys are ordered to protect a small bridge in their home village during the waning months of the second world war. Truckloads of defeated, cynical Wehrmacht soldiers flee the approaching American troops, but the boys, full of enthusiasm for the “blood and honor” Nazi ideology, stay to defend the useless bridge.”

TMDb

I paired it with Ich war Neunzehn, the East German/Russian film about a 17-year-old Red Army lieutenant’s last days of the war north of Berlin. It’s hard to think of a better illustration of the end of the European theater of war free of the pernicious and ubiquitous American boo-yah of so many countless war films. With these two films, you get rare perspectives of both the end of the war and of the beginning of the peace; Die Brücke illustrates the final gotterdamerung of the Reich and Ich war Neunzehn illustrates the post-gotterdamerung of East German communism overseen by Russian propaganda.

While I still dearly love Der Untergang (2004), it and so many other films tell the same old stories of the major characters of the war. These two films however show what life was like for millions of ordinary people. Die Brücke barely mentions Hitler and Churchill, and they are far off and far removed from the school boys’ mundane cares. Ich war Neunzehn doesn’t mention Stalin. They both allude to the systems of fascism and communism, but that’s not the focus. The result in both cases is refreshing. Instead we see real human beings surviving or dying without madeup actors with little clipped mustaches and their historical names in print below to tell viewers this madeup actor is Hitler or Stalin or Churchill.

David M. Keyes of «Cinemaphile» describes Die Brücke this way:

“The bridge persists as a stubborn link between a decaying empire and imminent liberation, defended enthusiastically by seven young men on the precipice of mortal danger. They wear masks that distort their notion of the inevitable, but not merely out of ignorance; they have been molded by the vehement enthusiasm of nationalism, which remains unchanged even after buildings have crumbled and soldiers have been erased from the battlefields. Most of them are all too eager to step in as defenders of their treasured Reich, though the faces of their parents reflect a more anxious concern.
“In one notable moment, for instance, one of the mothers tearfully pleas with her son to ignore the drafting letter he has received, insisting that he flee to the country to stay with relatives. He declines, grinning the whole way, which places emphasis on the underlying conflict: can these teenage boys be faulted for being slaves to the pure and idealistic, even as the possibilities of triumph seem lost in a haze of downtrodden confessions? Perhaps it is more sobering to see them as symbols of the uncultivated, especially under the rule of the Nazis: because this essentially made them the most expendable in an impending fight against enemy combatants, an obligatory defeat only aggravates the wound created by their destructive occupation.”

Cinemaphile

I’ll come back again and again to this one, and to Ich war Neunzehn; next time, I’ll view them back-to-back on the same night.


Die Brücke. 1959. Criterion Collection. German with English subtitles. Bernhard Wicki (d); Manfred Gregor (novel); Folker Bohnet, Fritz Wepper, Michael Hinz, Frank Glaubrecht, Karl Michael Balzer, Volker Lechtenbrink, Günther Hoffmann, Cordula Trantow, Wolfgang Stumpf, Günter Pfitzmann, Heinz Spitzner, Siegfried Schürenberg, Ruth Hausmeister, Eva Vaitl, Edith Schultze-Westrum, Hans Elwenspoek, Trude Breitschopf, Klaus Hellmold, Inge Benz, Til Kiwe, Edeltraut Elsner, Vicco von Bülow, Georg Lehn, Johannes Buzalski, Heini Göbel, Alexander Hunzinger, Alfons Teuber (a).

Movie Night: Ich War Neunzehn

“Konrad Wolf’s 1968 feels like a real 1945; he takes us back to his youth and we’re submerged in the fog that he had to navigate through once upon a time.”

From 1968: «Ich war Neunzehn (I Was Nineteen)». Mesmerizing. Intense. Now in my top ten of all time. Yes, it’s Ostie/DDR propaganda sucking up to the Russians. And it’s very well done, transcending the (now deceased) confines of the DDR strait jacket.

The synopsis:

“April 1945: Gregor Hecker, 19 years of age, reaches the outskirts of Berlin as part of the Red Army’s scouting team. Having fled Germany with his family when he was eight, he is confronted with the dilemma of having to fight men from the very country he was born in. Through dealing with challenging situations (e.g. he is appointed commander of Bernau, talks to many disillusioned Germans, and is once and again attacked by scattered groups of German soldiers), he grows more confident that not all hope is lost for post-war Germany.”

TMDb

As a reviewer at DVD Talk puts it, ” The DEFA was responsible for some very creative films, but it was still under the auspices of a Communist GDR, so there’s the inevitable Stalinist propaganda. The Russians are naturally portrayed as the heroes of the war, and made to be the biggest victims of the war. ” The reviewer, Daniel Siwek, goes on:

Konrad Wolf’s 1968 feels like a real 1945; he takes us back to his youth and we’re submerged in the fog that he had to navigate through once upon a time. It spends a lot of time repeating it’s points and questions, but when you consider the subject matter, isn’t that the way it really is as well? It’s hyped as one of Germany’s greatest films, and while I’m no expert in Deutsche cinema, I can understand that it’s definitely a film that deserves to be examined and appreciated.

DVD Talk

Well worth having it in a collection and re-viewing it every once in awhile. Russian/German with English subtitles.


Ich war Neunzehn. 1968. Criterion Collection. German/Russian with English subtitles. Konrad Wolf (d). Wolfgang Kohlhaase (w). Jaecki Schwarz, Vasiliy Livanov, Rolf Hoppe, Galina Polskikh, Jürgen Hentsch, Kurt Böwe, Hermann Beyer, Mikhail Gluzskiy, Jenny Gröllmann, Wolfgang Greese, Johannes Wieke, Fritz Mohr, Otto Lang, Aleksey Eybozhenko, Anatoliy Solovyov, Klaus Manchen, Walter Bechstein, Afanasi Kochetkov, Dieter Mann, Wolfgang Winkler, Martin Trettau (a).

TCM Tonight: Summer Under the Stars – Joan Crawford

Of COURSE we had to watch some Joan tonight. Not taking time to behold the wonder that is our patron saint, Lucille LeSueur, would be anathema, blasphemy, time wasted!

Poster of Sudden Fear Movie
Sudden Fear Movie Poster

First up was 1952’s Sudden Fear — Joan with Jack Palance, Gloria Grahame, Bruce Bennett, Virginia Hudson and Mike “Touch” / “Mannix” Connors. David Miller directed. Playwright takes up with menacing actor Palance, who is really plotting with Gloria Grahame (who else?) to knock off Joan and take all her fabulous wealth. Mike Connors is there to be supposedly pretty and try to romance Gloria Grahame, who brushes him off because, of course, she likes being smacked around by her dreamboat Palance. Also, she has a closet with handy poison and a gun all ready to go.

Summary: “After an ambitious actor insinuates himself into the life of a wealthy middle-aged playwright and marries her, he plots with his mistress to murder her.”

IMDb.

Fabulous quotes:

Myra Hudson: “Remember what Nietzsche says ‘Live dangerously!'”
Lester Blaine: “You know what happened to Nietzsche?”
Myra Hudson: “No, what?”
Lester Blaine: “He’s dead.”

Lester Baine and Myra Hudson, Sudden Fear

“I was just wondering what I’d done to deserve you.” 

Myra Hudson, Sudden Fear
Harriet Craig movie poster
Movie poster of Harriet Craig, 1952.

Next up was 1950s Harriet Craig — Joan with Wendell Corey, Lucile Watson, Allyn Joslyn, William Bishop, K.T. Stevens and Ellen Corby. Directed by Vincent Sherman. She plays, what else, a Mommie Dearest without the kids, who actually hates kids, disorder, had to work to survive in a laundry and other foul places, but who now worships a perfectly clean, massive house and a Ming vahse and browbeats the servants and the little boy next door. Only thing missing is cans of Dutch Cleanser. Harriet is my paternal grandmother with money, youth, and better tailoring. Now THAT woman knew how to clean! The Ming vahse fails to survive the picture, as does her marriage.

Summary: “Domineering Harriet Craig holds more regard for her home and its possessions than she does for any person in her life. Among those she treats like household objects are her kind husband Walter, whom she has lied to about her inability to have children; her cousin Claire, whom she treats like a secretary; and her servants whom she treats like slaves.”

IMDb

Fabulous quotes:

“No man’s born ready for marriage; he has to be trained.” 

Harriet Craig.

“I’m going next door. Where the scheming widow lives.” 

Walter Craig.
Movie Poster of Torch Song

We also caught the tail end of Torch Song from 1953, with its infamous scene of Joan doing some serious legwork and vamping in full black face lip synching as India Adams sings Two Faced Woman and one of Elizabeth Taylor’s husbands, Michael Wilding, playing blind, complete with drunken old biddy mother, seeing eye dog and costumes and more lip synching and other acts of violent culture appropriation.

Summary: “Jenny Stewart is a tough Broadway musical star who doesn’t take criticism from anyone. Yet there is one individual, Tye Graham, a blind pianist who may be able to break through her tough exterior.”

IMDb

Fabulous quotes:

“Your idea of art’s the fruit in the slot machine.”

Jenny Stewart

Jenny: “Carl, after you drop me will you take Mr. Norton home?” Carl: “Yes ma’am. What’s your address Mr. Norton?” Jenny: “Any dark bar.”

Jenny Stewart and her chauffeur

Joan emotes with aforementioned Michael Wilding, as well as Gig Young, the always fabulous Marjorie Rambeau, Harry Morgan, and Maidie Norman, who plays the usual part reserved for women of color: the maid, who remains completely silent when the white folk smudge their faces with charcoal, paint on big lips and start singin’ field hand songs. (Maidie was five hundred times the actor Joan was, but made-up black face gets Oscars and real black face gets two lines talking about how dinner or the fancy white woman dress is ready. Ms. Norman and Ms. Rambeau are pretty much the only redeeming features of this one, as well as a little bit of Mr. Wilding’s handsome mug. Should’ve been titled Black Face Lip Synching Song, but theaters in the south would have been all in a snit and shit. If you’re not into being entertained by many appalling elements in a 90-minute period, skip Torch SongSudden Fear and Harriet Craig I can personally recommend.

Tonight is the end of this year’s Summer Under the Stars. How appropriate to end it with Dearest Joan. And that fabulous production, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? so that Bette Davis can yet again trample on Joan’s special Summer Under the Stars day.

It’s now September. Thank god. This summer weather-wise and otherwise was brutal. Fall can’t get here fast enough.