Saturday, March 21, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Devil Strikes at Night (1957) at the Noir City Film Festival

I spent Sunday afternoon, March 8th, at the 22nd Annual Noir City Film Festival. On the schedule: A double bill of films directed by Robert Siodmak.

Siodmak is one of the names most closely associated with film noir, having directed numerous genre classics including PHANTOM LADY (1944), THE KILLERS (1946), CRY OF THE CITY (1948), and CRISS CROSS (1949).

The afternoon began with a 35mm print of FLY-BY-NIGHT (1942), an entertaining "B" film from Paramount Pictures. I saw this film, starring Richard Carlson and Nancy Kelly, in a "gray market" print I found on the internet about ten years ago. What a treat to revisit it on a big screen in a sparkling print! I thoroughly enjoyed it and really wish it would have a DVD release.

FLY-BY-NIGHT had been made during Siodmak's Hollywood years, following his departure from his native Germany after the rise of Hitler. The director returned to Germany in the '50s, where he made THE DEVIL STRIKES AT NIGHT (1957), known in Germany as NACHTS, WENN DER TEUFEL KAM. We were fortunate to watch this film in a beautiful 35mm print.

The plot of THE DEVIL STRIKES AT NIGHT was definitely unusual; it's a police procedural set in wartime Nazi Germany. The film's premise was that some people in Germany, such as police detective Axel Kersten (Claus Holm), weren't supportive of the Nazis but were trying to survive under the regime as best they could.

"Kriminalkommissar" Kersten works conscientiously at his job, attempting to solve serial killings being committed by dimwitted, mentally disturbed Bruno Luedke (Mario Adorf). A local SS officer, Rossdorf (Hans Messemer), views Kersten with some suspicion, noting that Kersten's not a member of the Nazi party.

It's further unfortunate for Kersten that his attempt to clear a wrongly accused Army officer (Werner Peters) doesn't fit in with Rossdorf's wish to suppress the existence of a serial killer, which might reflect negatively on the Third Reich. Kersten's refusal to back down from the truth endangers not only his own life, but that of Helga (Annemarie Duringer), a police file clerk with whom he is falling in love.

Like opening night's THE BEAST MUST DIE (1952), this was a pretty dark film, although thankfully only one murder was depicted, and it was handled subtly.

Also like THE BEAST MUST DIE, it was quite an interesting movie. I love police procedurals, and while I'd been uncertain how I'd find this one, given the setting, I found it quite a fascinating 105 minutes, pitting German against German.

Kersten stands in for those Germans who, like Siodmak, didn't support the Nazis -- but unlike the director's real life experience, in the film Kersten was stuck in his native country. Holm is excellent portraying Kersten's attempts to quietly yet firmly push back against the political bureacracy and stand up for the truth and the life of an innocent man. It's the stuff of excellent drama.

The movie was shot in gritty black and white by Georg Krause, who filmed PATHS OF GLORY (1957) for Stanley Kubrick in that same time frame.

Eddie Muller announced yesterday that this year's remaining Noir City festivals, scheduled to take place in several different cities, are on hold until the current coronavirus emergency is resolved. Once they're back up and running, I recommend this film for anyone who's able to attend a Noir City festival.



Blogger Margot Shelby said...

I'm a Siodmak fan anyway, and this is really a good movie. I'd say the best of his German films. Did they show it with subtitles at the festival?

9:42 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Margot! Yes, it was a subtitled version.

Glad to know you enjoyed it as well. This is the only one of Siodmak's German films I've seen to date.

Incidentally, my husband and a friend created a Directed by Robert Siodmak t-shirt which is available online! He made it before we even knew there would be a Siodmak double bill at the festival. The font style is from THE KILLERS.

Best wishes,

9:51 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Well, enjoy isn't really the right word, but I know what you mean. :)
That t-shirt is great!

2:06 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

LOL yes, exactly!! It's one of those movies which isn't "fun," but is engrossing and rewarding.

Glad you enjoyed a look at the shirt!

Best wishes,

2:49 PM  

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