Sunday, April 3, 2016


BERLIN EXPRESS (1948) is a routine RKO spy thriller which is raised a notch by Lucien Ballard's on-location cinematography of war torn Frankfurt and Berlin. Seeing the devastation of those two cities (a result of Allied bombing), it's a wonder that either city was able to rebuild after the war.

The film, written by Curt Siodmak and directed by the great Jacques Tourneur,  plays like a pseudo-documentary with voice over narration explaining the post-war situation and the occupation of Germany by four separate nations: the U.S., Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. Representatives from those four countries, along with some German citizens, find themselves on a train ultimately bound for Berlin. One of the passengers is a peace activist professor lobbying for a restored and unified Germany. He's supposed to deliver a report in Berlin that will have a bearing on the reconstruction of Germany. But someone doesn't want the professor to reach Berlin alive. A bomb explodes in his compartment but the man killed is revealed to be a decoy. The real professor (Paul Lukas) and his secretary (Merle Oberon) continue with their mission but when the professor is kidnapped it's up to the four unlikely comrades to team-up and try to find him. The four are American Robert Lindley (Robert Ryan), Frenchman Perrot (Charles Korvin), Brit Sterling (Robert Coote) and Russian Lt. Maxim (Roman Toporow). The professor is eventually rescued but there's a final plot twist: one of the four is actually a German spy who intends to finish the job of stopping the professor.

When the group finally arrives in Berlin they must all go their separate ways, each to their own country's area of occupation. It's a somewhat heavy-handed metaphor of how individuals can work together for the greater good but nations are unable to reach a similar accord.

With a brief appearance by granite jawed Charles McGraw, BERLIN EXPRESS is a tightly constructed little thriller that moves swiftly amid the bombed out ruins of the German cities. Worth seeing.

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