For Deutschland and her warped double, a remembrance and a confession. Peter Lorre, who has learned much from Lang and even more from Brecht, opens with a stark composition (looming gray sky, silhouettes, train smoke) twice revisited with suggestive variations. As the physician administering vaccinations to refugees in a cramped camp, his eyes have seldom revealed more weariness and rue. "The past years have left their mark," the new assistant and the old Gestapo colleague are one and the same (Karl John), one night of cigarettes and schnapps unearths plenty of memories. Back in 1943, the doctor used to study bacteria until his mind was unmoored by the discovery that his unfaithful young fiancée (Renate Mannhardt) leaked secret data to the enemy. His hands idly caress the maiden’s neck, and in no time the strangulation has been swept under the rug by the State. "From murder to suicide," he muses, "and nobody asks anything..." In a regime of mass murders, why stop with only one death? "Debts must be paid" in Lorre’s singular, solitary directorial effort, a tour of despairing psyches shot through flashes of expressionism. Spiraling staircases and sweltering subways, the bombed-out building called "home," Destiny as the locomotive with the last word. (A plot to kill der Führer pops up along the way and is readily curtailed, a nice dash of modernist disregard for the noir mystery of "grown-ups playing hide and seek.") Bonnard domestic interiors and dark alleys fitfully illuminated by the unbalanced half moon that is the haunted protagonist, his visage so death-scented that a glimpse is enough to reduce a seasoned streetwalker to shrieks. (Siodmak's The Devil Strikes at Night picks up the inquiry.) An indelible mélange of irony and vulnerability, a personal meditation from a sensitive artist acquainted with the façades of terror. Cinematography by Vaclav Vich. With Helmuth Rudolph, Johanna Hofer, Eva Ingeborg Scholz, Lotte Rausch, and Gisela Trowe. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce