Sunday, May 10, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Escape From East Berlin (1962) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

ESCAPE FROM EAST BERLIN (1962), which was inspired by a true story, is a suspense film just released by the Warner Archive.

I knew nothing about the movie going in and chose to watch it based on the subject matter; I've always been interested in the Cold War era, which was a topic I focused on in my college studies. I'm so glad I decided to watch this film, as I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Don Murray is surprisingly effective as a German, Kurt Schroder; he looks just right and plays the role with a slight accent which works quite well. It's an excellent performance.

After seeing his coworker (Horst Janson) gunned down when he tries to ram his truck through the Berlin Wall, Kurt comes to the aid of the man's sister, Erika (Christine Kaufmann, who was Mrs. Tony Curtis in the '60s). After a run-in with soldiers, Erika doesn't return home to her parents, but instead continues to hide in Kurt's crumbling family home, located yards from the Berlin Wall.

Kurt devises a plan to tunnel from the basement under the wall into West Berlin, aided during the many weeks of digging by Erika, his family, and a neighbor (Maria Tober). They later receive unexpected help from Walter Brunner (Werner Klemperer).

All goes well until a well-meaning friend goes to ask Erika's parents if they want to leave with her. The father (Kurt Waitzmann), angry at losing their relatively nice apartment after their son's escape attempt, uses the information to try to ingratiate himself with the East German powers-that-be.

ESCAPE FROM EAST BERLIN was directed by Robert Siodmak, who made a long list of excellent film noir titles including PHANTOM LADY (1944), THE KILLERS (1946), CRY OF THE CITY (1948), and CRISS CROSS (1949). That noir experience made him the perfect director for a gritty, dimly lit suspense tale. It was filmed in widescreen black and white by Georg Krause.

Early on it almost seems to be a dropped plot thread that Erika never goes home, but one later realizes it wouldn't have been safe for her, and someone does get word to her parents that she's safe. That probably should have been explained a little more clearly, but otherwise it's a very well-constructed drama, filmed close in time to the actual incident.

This well-paced 89-minute movie has just enough suspense to make it exciting, but not so much as to be unbearable. It's a candidate for my 2015 "favorite discoveries" list, and I recommend it.

This Warner Archive DVD is a beautiful widescreen print. The DVD includes the movie trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


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