You and Me (Fritz Lang/ U.S., 1938):

Fritz Lang slashes capitalism, though he knows he can't extricate himself from it -- the opening montage surveys a cosmos for sale, aimed from above at a luxurious department store and built around a mega close-up of the "cash" button on a register, and amid the items included in its flurry of shots is a film camera. "You Can Not Get Something for Nothing," goes the first of Kurt Weill's anti-musical refrains, resonating painfully with the characters carrying with them the weight of past crimes. A clerk reveals his old identity as a safecracker by operating a can-opener, though Harry Carey believes in second chances and runs the store benignly; among the reformed jailbirds working the floor are George Raft and Sylvia Sidney, co-workers and clandestine lovers who break parole restrictions by getting married. The comedy's in the screenplay, Norman Krasna via Virginia Van Upp, but on the screen the Paramount champagne is spiked by noir shadows: the newlyweds make their honeymoon an international journey by visiting foreign restaurants, only to find sinister underworld honcho Barton MacLane at the end of the tour. Their romantic joy is undercut by the ruthless awareness of its fragility, exquisitely expressed by Lang with an image of ephemeral connection, Raft and Sidney lovingly touching hands for a fleeting, furtive moment on their separate ways riding in an escalator under the world's disapproving surveillance. (The meaning of a hand in close-up is sharply reversed from the previous scene, where MacLane grinds his heel into Warren Hymer's palm.) A merciless picture, following Fury and You Only Live Once with astonishing avant-gardism, more Brechtian than Brecht himself -- Carol Paige's torch song compresses all of The Threepenny Opera into three minutes, while the stupefying experimentalism of the "Stick to the Mob" number blindsided critics who came for Art Deco romps. The robbery's foiled, the crooks sit among toys for Sidney's lecture on the counterproductive economics of crime; in Lang's caustic America, even redemption comes with price tags. With Robert Cummings, Roscoe Karns, George E. Stone, Adrian Morris, Roger Gray, Cecil Cunningham, Guinn Williams, and Vera Gordon. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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