Panther’s Moon (1950)

vt Spy Hunt
US / 74 minutes / bw / Universal International Dir: George Sherman Pr: Ralph Dietrich Scr: George Zuckerman, Leonard Lee Story: Panther’s Moon (1948; vt Hunter’s Moon) by Victor Canning Cine: Irving Glassberg Cast: Howard Duff, Marta Toren (i.e., Märta Torén), Philip Friend, Robert Douglas, Philip Dorn, Walter Slezak, Kurt Kreuger, Aram Katcher, Otto Waldis, Ivan Triesault, Jay Barney.

Although it’s technically a US production, this outing has “UK film noir” stamped all over it, including the use of a fading US star as leading man: Duff was accused in 1950 of communist sympathies and, if not for his relationship with Ida Lupino, whom he married in 1951, might have found himself ostracized by the industry. British and other European actors dominate the cast, notably the radiant Swedish actress Märta Torén as the female lead, and the movie is based on a novel by the stalwart UK thriller writer Victor Canning.

Marta Toren as Catherine

It’s the early days of the Cold War, and Europe is aswarm with clandestine agents of diverse allegiances.

In Milan, an agent called Gormand (Waldis) passes a piece of microfilm he’s brought from Istanbul to Catherine Ullven (Torén), who seems to be working with the British Secret Service. She in turn, pretending to be a journalist for the Apex News Service, sweet-talks Steve Quain (Duff), who’s escorting a pair of black panthers by train across Europe for eventual delivery to Bradley’s Circus in the US, into leaving the animals briefly Continue reading

Mademoiselle Fifi (1944)

US / 69 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: Robert Wise Pr: Val Lewton Scr: Josef Mischel, Peter Ruric Story: “Mademoiselle Fifi” (1882) and “Boule de Suif” (1880) by Guy de Maupassant Cine: Harry Wild Cast: Simone Simon, John Emery, Kurt Kreuger, Alan Napier, Helen Freeman, Jason Robards (i.e., Jason Robards Sr.), Norma Varden, Romaine Callender, Fay Helm, Edmund Glover, Charles Waldron, Alan Ward, Lillian Bronson, Mayo Newhall, Violette Wilson.

I’d seen a brief description somewhere of this movie that made me think it might be an intriguing piece of historical borderline noir. That didn’t prove to be the case, although there’s a certain amount of noirishness late in the proceedings—enough, anyway, to satisfy this site’s notoriously lax standards.

It’s 1870, and France is under occupation by the Prussians. Far too many of the French are collaborating with the occupiers, and Father Moran (Waldron), the elderly priest of the little town of Cleresville, refuses to ring the church bell until a Frenchman has the guts to strike back against the invaders.

Simone Simon as Elisabeth.

This pisses off the local garrison, notably Lt. von Eyrick (Kreuger), nicknamed Mademoiselle Fifi by his fellow officers because of his habit of saying “Fi, fi donc” to express impatience. (The French phrase doesn’t translate easily, except as “Fie, fie, then”—not exactly yer colloquial.)

Cut to Rouen, where a coach is about to leave for Dieppe, with Cleresville as one of its stops. Aboard are a mixed bag of Continue reading

Hotel Berlin (1945)

vt Vicki Baum’s Hotel Berlin
US / 98 minutes / bw / Warner Dir: Peter Godfrey Pr: Louis F. Edelman Scr: Jo Pagano, Alvah Bessie Story: Hier Stand ein Hotel (1943; vt Hotel Berlin; vt Hotel Berlin ’43; vt Berlin Hotel; vt Here Stood a Hotel) by Vicki Baum Cine: Carl Guthrie Cast: Faye Emerson, Helmut Dantine, Raymond Massey, Andrea King, Peter Lorre, Alan Hale, George Coulouris, Henry Daniell, Peter Whitney, Helene Thimig, Steven Geray, Kurt Kreuger, Frank Reicher, Richard Tyler, Paul Panzer, Wolfgang Zilzer.

In some ways a companion piece to CASABLANCA (1942), but set in a swanky hotel in Berlin during the final months of the war rather than the somewhat more bohemian environs of Rick’s Café Américain, this surprisingly neglected movie has strengths of its own, not least an electrifying performance from Peter Lorre in a subsidiary role.

The Gestapo has deduced that Dr. Martin Richter (Dantine), an escapee from Dachau, has taken refuge in the Hotel Berlin, and its officers are combing the place in search of him. Also at the hotel are various high-ranking Nazis, including General Arnim von Dahnwitz (Massey) who, although renowned as the butcher of Kharkov, has recently participated in an unsuccessful coup against Hitler; all the other conspirators have suicided or been executed, and even von Dahnwitz’s old and dear friend Baron von Stetten (Daniell) reckons the man should kill himself before the Gestapo hauls him in. Von Dahnwitz, however, believes there’s a chance for him and his mistress, celebrated actress Lisa (or Liesl, as she’s sometimes called in dialogue) Dorn (King), to escape to Sweden.

Hotel Berlin - Raymond Massey as Gen Arnim von Dahnwitz

Raymond Massey as the hapless Gen Arnim von Dahnwitz.

The fugitive Martin Richter has a network of allies among the hotel wait-staff. One of these, Fritz Renn (Reicher), is soon arrested, but not before he has equipped Martin with a waiter’s coat. Fritz believes that, if Martin can contrive to be serving in Lisa’s suite during the search, the chances are that the searchers, dazzled by her fame, will overlook him. The plan works, although Lisa becomes convinced Martin is a Gestapo spy. Another significant ally is Bellboy #6 (Tyler), a child with courage and fortitude beyond his years, the son of underground leader Walter Baumler (Zilzer).

Hotel Berlin - Richter (Dantine) and Prof Koenig

The fugitive Martin Richter (Helmut Dantine) and the world-weary turncoat Professor Koenig (Peter Lorre).

The resident of the room next to Lisa’s suite is one-time Nobel prizewinner Professor Johannes Koenig (Lorre), who Continue reading