Solidarity lessons in the infernal pit, "great way to spend a Sunday." Children’s games mimic the predicament (cf. The Wild Bunch), a line drawn in the dirt is the border near the Thibaut mine, the war a fresh memory for French and German alike. A language misunderstanding in a beer hall and an indecisive mademoiselle set up the main drama, which unfolds some two thousand feet below the surface in darkness worthy of Georges de la Tour. The underground is sculptured with soot-covered walls and oscillating lamps, a gas leak fuels the avalanche of fire and the fateful explosion is glimpsed as a column of black smoke from the window of a moving train. "This damned drudgery will kill us all," thus two hostile nations come together to rescue the trapped workers -- the international handshake finally comes once everybody is waist-deep in sludge, sweating behind gas masks. The great perils and the fraternity of strangers so admired by Hugo, the bulky materiality of the world as well as its precariousness, the bricks and mortar of Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s classic humanistic pamphlet. Clamminess and suffocation down in the tunnels while crowds of townspeople wait grimly by the gates, the proletarian outrage of Soviet montage mated to Germanic camera movement for a burly surge of communal urgency. Reed’s The Stars Look Down and Wajda’s Kanal and Stone’s World Trade Center all flow from it, the nightmarish segue from cramped mineshaft to smoky battlefield is a keen Dovzhenko effect reworked by Fuller in The Big Red One. "Never forget we are united" and yet comradeship is a fleeting glow in Pabst’s uncertain Europe, one dissolve later and the barriers are up again, "everything is back in order." Cinematography by Robert Baberske and Fritz Arno Wagner. With Alexander Granach, Fritz Kampers, Ernst Busch, Daniel Mendaille, Georges Charlia, and Andree Ducret. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce