(The Murderers are Among Us)
East Germany, 1946
Director: Wolfgang Staudte
Production: DEFA (East Germany); black and white, 35mm; running time: 86 minutes; length: 2400 meters. Released 1946. Filmed spring 1946 in Berlin.
Producer: Herbert Uhlich; screenplay: Wolfgang Staudte; photography: Friedl Behn-Grund and Eugen Klagemann; editor: Lilian Seng; sound recordist: Dr. Klaus Jungk; production designers: Otto Hunte and Bruno Monden; music: Ernst Roters.
Cast: Hildegard Knef (sometimes Neff) ( Susanna Wallner ); Ernst Fischer ( Dr. Mertens ); Arno Paulsen ( Captain Bruckner ); Erna Sellmer ( Frau Bruckner ); Robert Forsch ( Herr Mondschein ); Albert Johann ( Herr Timm ).
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By March 1946, nine months after the armistice, a film crew dominated by veterans of the Nazi industry was out in the streets of devastated Berlin, in front of Stettiner railway station and on flattened Alexanderplatz, shooting the first postwar German film, Die Mörder sind unter uns . The director, Wolfgang Staudte, worked under the auspices of DEFA, the only production company licensed in the Soviet Zone. Founded on the remains of the old Ufa empire, DEFA had a distinct material advantage over its western counterparts: what remained of giant studios and even raw stock plants was concentrated in the eastern, Soviet Zone, of Germany. Mörder is both an exposé denouncing the ability of Nazi war criminals to bury their pasts and to enjoy respected positions in the new German society and a romance between a returning concentration camp survivor and a doctor whose participation in the war has left him an alcoholic with no will to rebuild his life.
The prominence of the love story and the casting of Hildegard Knef (a very unlikely looking camp victim) effectively mutes the political criticism implied by the film. Nevertheless, Mörder was well received by contemporary critics as a serious and realistic drama. The arrival of this film in Western Europe and America occasioned speculation that a new German film industry would soon spring to life. This prediction was, of course, premature. Today, in spite of the location shooting, it is the leftovers of an older expressionist style that seem to permeate Staudte's work. The ruins of Berlin were a ready-made horror film set, and expressionist stylization sets the tone in this film much as it did in postwar American film noir—the heavy shadows, the weird angles, the use of frames within frames. Ravaged Berlin is used as a metaphor for the broken people who live there. In one emphatic cut, the film switches from the hero's confession of his own war guilt to a long held shot of a crumbling building, dust rising from the rubble beneath it. Staudte indulges in heavy irony. The camera zooms in on a poster advertizing "beautiful Germany" in the midst of desolation through the rubble; he quips, "The city is coming back to life." With oblique camera angles, the film also creates a subjective view of the doctor's drunken interludes.
Mörder was the first in a cycle of " Trümmerfilme " or "rubble films," produced mainly by DEFA, using the streets of Berlin as backdrops for melancholy dramas concerning contemporary issues— the returning soldier, the black market, war criminals. Meanwhile, as the many competing companies licensed in the west went into action, more escapist, apolitical films began to dominate German production. Staudte, who had worked in the Nazi film industry, may have retreated from a clear coming to terms with the issue of war guilt in Die Mörder sind unter uns , but he did produce a serious drama securely moored in a contemporary milieu, something German filmmakers had refused to do for years. What seems lacking is a break with the past in style as well as subject matter.
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