Rope of Sand (1949)

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Burt Lancaster battles it out with Paul Henreid in a tale of diamonds and dust!
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US / 104 minutes / bw / Wallis–Hazen, Paramount Dir: William Dieterle Pr: Hal B. Wallis Scr: Walter Doniger, John Paxton Story: Walter Doniger Cine: Charles B. Lang Jr Cast: Burt Lancaster, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Corinne Calvet, Sam Jaffe, John Bromfield, Mike Mazurki, Kenny Washington, Edmond Breon, Hayden Rorke, David Thursby, Josef Marais, Miranda (i.e., Miranda Marais).

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Welcome to Diamondstadt, headquarters of the Colonial Diamond Co. Ltd:

“This part of the desert of South Africa, where only a parched camelthorn tree relieves the endless parallels of time, space and sky, surrounds like a rope of sand the richest diamond-bearing area in the world—an uneasy land where men enflamed by monotony and the heat sometimes forget the rules of civilization.”

The place is run like a fascist state in miniature—complete with torture chamber—by its sadistic police chief, Commandant Paul G. Vogel (Henreid), and his thugs. Vogel’s primary task is to ensure that no one strays into the Prohibited Area, a region of desert where sometimes clusters of diamonds can be found mere inches beneath the surface of the sand.

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Total bastard Vogel (Paul Henreid) rules his little fiefdom with an iron fist.

It’s here that Mike Davis (Lancaster) returns after an absence of two years. Almost from the moment of his arrival it’s clear he has a bitter past in Diamondstadt . . . and a bitter past with the loathsome Vogel. When Mike refuses to be intimidated at the docks by Vogel, the police chief deliberately engineers an “accident,” so that a derrick’s worth of stuff falls—not on Mike, because that could cause problems, but glancingly on the leg of a sailor, John (Washington). Mike tends John’s wounds and sends him off to see Diamondstadt’s physician, Dr. Francis Kitteridge Hunter (Jaffe), who’s more or less permanently inebriated but remains competent.

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As Mike (Burt Lancaster, right) tends the wounds of John (Kenny Washington), the two men become fast friends.

Vogel’s boss is a man called Martingale (Rains); he’s listed as Arthur Martingale in the closing credits but in fact called Fred throughout the movie. The two work together and on the surface are allies, but in fact there’s no love lost between them, as we witness when Martingale covertly blackballs Vogel from membership of the snooty Perseus Club in Cape Town. Also in Cape Town, Martingale is picked up by Suzanne Renaud (Calvet), supposedly the French niece of a Colonial Diamond Co. stockholder but in fact a scammer whose trick is to inveigle herself into the rooms of married men and then threaten to accuse them of sexual impropriety.

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Suzanne (Corinne Calvet) casts an alluring glance Martingale’s way.

Martingale, having been informed of Mike’s return to Diamondstadt, calls Suzanne’s bluff—aside from anything else, he isn’t married—but then offers her a job. The reason there’s bad blood between Mike and Vogel is that 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).

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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