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

Woman’s Secret, A (1949)

US / 85 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: Nicholas Ray Pr & Scr: Herman J. Mankiewicz Story: Verpfändetes Leben (1946; vt Mortgage on Life) by Vicki Baum Cine: George Diskant Cast: Maureen O’Hara, Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Grahame, Bill Williams, Victor Jory, Mary Philips, Jay C. Flippen, Robert Warwick, Curt Conway, Ann Shoemaker, Virginia Farmer, Ellen Corby, Emory Parnell.

One of Ray’s earliest movies, after THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1948) and KNOCK ON ANY DOOR (1949), this is often listed as a film noir. At best it’s a borderline case; really it’s more like one of the interminable strings of quickie mysteries produced as fillers by the Poverty Row studios such as Monogram and PRC, but with significantly higher production standards, a much more polished screenplay (but see below) and, of course, a far higher-profile cast. Unfortunately, a few of the flaws of those Monogram/PRC cheapies seem evident too.

After finishing her radio broadcast one night, the popular singer Estrellita, aka Susan Caldwell (Grahame), arrives home and flies straight into a noisy argument with her mentor, Marian Washburn (O’Hara): despite all that Marian has done for her, Susan wants to abandon her career and go back to her podunk hometown of Azusa, California, where the most she ever had to cope with were the hands of married men. Susan storms up to her room with Marian following; moments later the maid Mollie (Farmer) hears the sound of a gunshot and discovers Marian standing over a seemingly dead Susan. On the arrival of the cops, Marian insists that she’s guilty of the crime.

Woman's Secret - Marian stands over Susan's bodyMarian (Maureen O’Hara) stands over the body of her protegee Susan (Gloria Grahame).

Her old friend, accompanist Luke Jordan (Douglas), frankly disbelieves her. He hires as her defense attorney Brook Matthews (Jory), who for a time was Susan’s lover. Together they bend the ear of Assistant DA Roberts (Warwick) and the cop in charge of the case, Inspector Jim Fowler (Flippen). With Continue reading