Thursday, June 05, 2014

Verboten!




Written and directed by Samuel Fuller, Verboten! is the story of an American soldier stationed in post-war Germany as he falls for a German woman despite the rules about Americans and Germans falling in love with each other. The film is set mostly in the aftermath of World War II where an American falls in love with a German woman while dealing with an uprising of neo-Nazis trying to start a new war with the Americans. Starring James Best, Sarah Cummings, Tom Pittman, and Harold Daye. Verboten! is a powerful war drama from Samuel Fuller.

The word “verboten” is a German translation meaning forbidden as the film is about this forbidden love affair between an American soldier and a German woman who saved him while he was wounded in battle. After the war, Sgt. David Brent (James Best) decides to stay in Germany to marry Helga Schiller (Sarah Cummings) unaware that she has her own motives to marry him so she can get food and a chance to go to America after the Nuremberg trials are over. Yet, things become complicated when Helga learns that a friend in Bruno (Tom Pittman) got a job working for the Americans when he is secretly organizing a neo-Nazi group to get Germany to reclaim its dignity as her brother Franz (Harold Daye) has become part of the group. After some encounters with angry and hungry Germans, Sgt. Brent deals with the decisions he’s made while trying to figure out the plans of this new neo-Nazi group that is trying to scare the Americans.

Samuel Fuller’s screenplay doesn’t just explore the postwar tension between American and Germans as the latter has no clue on what the Americans will do for them as there’s this other group of Germans who refuse to accept their countries defeat and the atrocities they committed. While Sgt. Brent is aware that falling in love and marrying Helga is forbidden from both sides, he decides to break the rules to ensure a happy life for himself and Helga. Yet, he is unaware of Bruno’s activities as the new neo-Nazi leader whose ideas would eventually cause worry for Helga who not only falls for David but also realize that her brother is getting way into deep. While some of the drama gets a little overboard, Fuller does showcase the conflict that Germans have about trusting the Americans as well as deal with the atrocities that their leader Adolf Hitler had committed.

Fuller’s direction is a bit uneven where he is making a war film in one aspect of the film but also a melodrama in another aspect. Despite that unevenness, Fuller does manage to make things engaging not just in the battle scenes early on as it features many of his visual trademarks. There’s also some moments in the drama where Fuller injects a lot of substance into the way Sgt. Brent and Helga interact as they start to fall in love amidst the chaos that is happening in postwar Germany. There’s also some very dark moments in the way Bruno conducts his meetings as it would feature some chilling montages over the activities his neo-Nazis would create but also in how it would mirror the same ideals of Adolf Hitler as it would play into Franz’s conscience in the film’s third act.

Especially as what Franz learned what Bruno is doing would prompt him to turn to Sgt. Brent for help in what would create this re-forging of the bond between the Americans and the Germans as Fuller would use a lot of stylish compositions for the drama and action. One notable scene that Fuller does that amps up the drama is this mesmerizing montage scene set in the Nuremberg trial with this mixture of footage from the trial to what Franz and Helga are seeing as it would force Franz to see what Hitler and his men had done. Overall, Fuller crafts a very compelling film about an American soldier who embarks into a forbidden love affair with a German woman in postwar Germany.

Cinematographer Joseph Biroc does excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography to create some unique lighting schemes for some of the scenes set at night while keeping things simple for the daytime interior and exterior scenes. Editor Philip Cahn does amazing work with the editing in creating not just some rhythmic cuts for the suspense and action but also in the montage that features a lot of dissolves and archival footage that meshed so well with the real action. Art director John B. Mansbridge and set decorator Glen Daniels do fantastic work with the set pieces from the look of the bombed out buildings in the German village to the office where Sgt. Brent would work after the war.

Costume designer Bernice Pontrelli does nice work with the period costumes from the dresses that Helga wears to the uniforms the men wear. Sound editor Bert Schoenfeld does terrific work with the sound to play into the chaos of the war as well as some of the riots that go in the village over lack of food. The film’s music by Harry Sukman is superb for its suspenseful-driven orchestral score with some somber, melodramatic themes as well as an opening theme song sung by Paul Anka.

The film’s cast includes some notable small roles from Joe Turkel as an infantryman, Anna Hope as a neighbor of Helga, and Paul Dubov as Sgt. Brent’s superior in the office building during the postwar period. Harold Daye is terrific as Helga’s younger brother Franz who immediately dislikes Sgt. Brent because he’s an American as he comes to term with what his country has done and what Bruno wants to do. Tom Pittman is fantastic as Bruno as this German soldier who returns home wanting to revive the Nazi party and hope to give Germany some of its pride back only to do things that forces Franz to question things. Sarah Cummings is excellent as Helga as this German woman who meets Sgt. Brent as she would marry him in the hopes to survive only to fall for him as she tries to deal with her brother’s allegiance for the Nazis. Finally, there’s James Best in a superb performance as Sgt. David Brent as this American soldier who falls for a German woman as he tries to defy the rules while doing whatever he can to help the Germans get back on their feet.

Verboten! is a stellar film from Samuel Fuller. It’s a war drama that explores the world of postwar Germany and the struggle between Americans and Germany to re-forge their bond while exploring the tension that was emerging. Especially as it’s a film that has a lot of qualities that Fuller is known for with his war films while also showcasing what he can do with melodrama despite the fact that it‘s a bit uneven. In the end, Verboten! is an excellent film from Samuel Fuller.

Samuel Fuller Films: I Shot Jesse James - The Baron of Arizona - The Steel Helmet - Fixed Bayonets! - Park Row - Pickup on South Street - (Hell and High Water) - (House of Bamboo) - (China Gate) - Run of the Arrow - (Forty Guns) - (The Crimson Kimono) - (Underworld U.S.A.) - Merrill's Marauders - Shock Corridor - The Naked Kiss - (Shark!) - (Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street) - (The Big Red One) - (White Dog) - (Thieves After Dark) - (Street of No Return) - (The Madonna and the Dragon)

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