“No one was here without a purpose.”
In post-WWII Germany, a group of international train passengers — including an American agronomist (Robert Ryan), a British schoolteacher (Robert Coote), a French businessman (Charles Korvin), a Russian soldier (Roman Toporow), and a French secretary (Merle Oberon) — band together to locate a kidnapped doctor (Paul Lukas) who has been working for peace and political unification.
Jacques Tourneur directed this taut ensemble thriller set on-board a moving train and throughout the ruins of post-WWII Germany. What seems at first like a “simple” murder mystery (a la Murder on the Orient Express) quickly reveals itself to be a tale of mistaken identities and deceptively shifting national loyalties; by the climactic pseudo-finale taking place inside an abandoned brewery in Berlin, we’re solidly hooked and pleasantly on edge. Berlin Express is notable as the first American feature film actually shot in post-war Europe — and to that end, it has an unfortunate didactic tone at times, especially during the first half-hour; the anonymous narration (by Paul Stewart) could and should have easily been cut, though I suppose it was assumed that audiences at the time were used to a Voice of God explaining to them the terrible truths of war-torn Europe. Thankfully, one can choose to ignore this and focus instead on both the exciting, twist-filled narrative and the lovely cinematography (by Lucien Ballard, Oberon’s husband at the time).
Note: Listen for the best response in the film (I won’t give away context or spoilers): “I think you’ve got that now.”
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Paul Lukas as Dr. Bernhardt
- Reinhold Schunzel as Walther
- Lucien Ballard’s cinematography
- Respectfully authentic integration of multiple languages (without subtitles)
Yes, as a fine (if subtly flawed) outing by a master director.