Berlin Express (Jacques Tourneur / U.S., 1948):

Shards of war, dreams of cooperation. Hang together or hang separately, as Benjamin Franklin would have it, his nation is represented in après-guerre Europe by the vacationing agronomist (Robert Ryan). From Paris to Berlin is the railroad itinerary, also on board are the French businessman (Charles Korvin), the British teacher (Robert Coote) and the Soviet trooper (Roman Toporow), plus the mysterious German (Paul Lukas) and his companion (Merle Oberon). A bomb liquidates the peace envoy and suddenly the fellow travelers are witnesses and suspects, a stopover in Frankfurt reveals a bombed-out exoskeleton on top of the remains of the Nazi resistance. "The builders of Germany? The wreckers of peace and unity!" The knotty welter of assassinations, kidnappings and betrayals is pieced out of Spione, The Lady Vanishes, Night Train to Munich and Foreign Correspondent, Jacques Tourneur keeps it all in delicate balance. An early joke (Oberon turning down one would-be Casanova after another in different languages) establishes the fluid tenor of shifting identities, alliances and even versions of history, "no one's address is dependable." Vérité views of the rubble mingle with noir shadows for the haunted realm, nightclub clowns and black marketeers (Hitler's autograph goes for two packs of cigarettes) fill the tenebrous void. Blunt symbols ("the dove of peace is a dead pigeon," it gets a makeshift funeral) and tell-tale reflections, the disused brewery for the underground meeting and the rusty beer vat illuminated by gun blasts. A tiny courtesy is enough hope for the finale at Brandenburg Gate, though Tourneur knows how elusive wholeness is—each jeep goes its way while the camera lingers on the maimed, distant figure limping through the ruins. The concurrence with Rossellini (Germania Anno Zero) and Wilder (A Foreign Affair) has been noted, Robbe-Grillet rides its rails onto Trans Europ Express. Cinematography by Lucien Ballard. With Reinhold Schünzel, Peter von Zerneck, Otto Waldis, Fritz Kortner, and Michael Harvey. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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