Blu-ray Review: Farewell / The Devil Strikes at Night | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Farewell / The Devil Strikes at Night

Studio: Kino Lorber

Jun 13, 2022 Web Exclusive
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One of the many German artists to flee their home country following the rise of the Third Reich, Robert Siodmak spent ten years in Hollywood, from 1941 to 1951. He made 21 films over the course of that decade, the most memorable being a string of film noirs including Phantom Lady, The Spiral Staircase, The Killers and Criss Cross, which have come to be regarded as classics by subsequent generations of critics and crime aficionados. Like many of his fellow ex-pats, Siodmak’s visual style drew heavily on the high contrast lighting and heightened emotional intensity of German Expressionism. In addition to being a skilled formalist, Siodmak also had an affinity for naturalism, especially when it came to directing actors. Kino Classics has released a pair of Blu-rays featuring two of Siodmak’s films from his time in German, both before and after his stint in Hollywood; the romantic dramedy Farewell from 1930 and the serial killer procedural The Devil Strikes at Night from 1957.

You might not expect it from a German film from the dawn of the sound era, but Farewell fits pretty comfortably on the rom-com continuum; zany misunderstandings abound and the bevy of wacky supporting characters is far more interesting than the attractive main couple. Set in a Berlin boardinghouse, the film is a low-stakes comedy of errors about Peter and Hella, a young couple whose plans to get married are waylaid by Peter being offered a job in Dresden. Unlike most rom-coms, Farewell actually has a downer ending where the couple breaks up. The new Kino release includes the alternate ending, a tongue-in-cheek tag in which the supporting cast is drinking in a bar and talking about how the main characters actually got back together.

Despite its modest ambitions and formulaic plot, Farewell feels like a peek inside day to day life in interwar Germany. This strain of naturalism isn’t common to the time or place; the most popular films of 1920s Germany were heavily theatric, expressionist fantasies. As light and charming as the film is, any story set during the Weimar era - or in this case, made during the Weimar era - exists under the dark pall of the impending rise of the Nazis. It makes the downbeat ending feel all the more appropriate, even if the makers of the film were ignorant of where their country was heading.

If Farewell is a bit of Weimar-era prescience, The Devil Strikes at Night is a bleak, post-Third Reich self-examination of justice, patriotism and societal rot. Set in Berlin in 1944 when the Nazis were still in power, it follows a veteran-turned-homicide detective attempting to root out a serial killer amid the bureaucratic red tape and moral vapidity that one would expect from a fascist society. From the perspective of a 2022 America that continues to self-immolate in part because it cannot come to terms with its past sins, it’s remarkable that many Germans could be so clear-eyed about their nations atrocities so shortly after they were committed. Numerous characters are surprised that the Claus Holm’s protagonist, detective Axel Kersten is not a member of the Nazi Party, despite his sterling war record. Kersten always demurs the question, but what could be seen as a concession to audience approval by the filmmakers - after all, who wants to root for a Nazi? - actually allows for an even grimmer story. A good man operating in an evil system ultimately can’t do much good. The killer is caught and executed quietly while his most recent murder is hanged on a convenient patsy that’s already been arrested - as were many of the previous murders - in order to disabuse the citizenry of the notion that they live under a fallible, uncaring regime that sees them as capital to control, not people to protect.

While Kersten’s half of the narrative is a relatively straightforward procedural, it’s in the other half - following the day to day existence of the killer - that Siodmak expresses the affinity for naturalism he showed as early as Farewell. Played with thuggish, dull-eyed sincerity by Mario Adorf, Bruno Ludke is a hulking day laborer who lives paycheck to paycheck working odd jobs and strangling women in his spare time. Bruno is not particularly sympathetic - even when he’s not killing people, he’s a drunken, incurious boor - but he does feel very normal. His pathology is not some higher calling or some torturous curse. It’s just something he does to pass the time, like drinking or smoking cigarettes. As we witness his daily interactions with his co-workers, his customers and his neighbors, it becomes glaringly obvious how something so evil could exist right under everyone’s nose. Bruno may be loathsome, but he’s also like everyone else around him, just trying to get by in a world that could care less. And his evil is only a drop in the bucket when compared to the system that hunts him down and swallows him whole.


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