Schachnovelle (1960)

vt Brainwashed; vt Three Moves to Freedom; vt The Royal Game
West Germany / 102 minutes / bw / Roxy, NF Dir: Gerd Oswald Pr: Luggi Waldleitner Scr: Harold Medford, Gerd Oswald, Herbert Reinecker Story: “Schachnovelle” (1941; vt “The Royal Game”) by Stefan Zweig Cine: Günther Senftleben Cast: Curd Jürgens, Claire Bloom, Hansjörg Felmy, Mario Adorf, Hans Söhnker, Albert Bessler, Rudolf Forster, Alan Gifford, Jan Hendriks, Albert Lieven, Harald Maresch, Dietmar Schönherr, Karel Stepánek, Wolfgang Wahl.

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Like Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), this is based on a Stefan Zweig story. It’s a fascinating and distinctly noirish psychological piece, and in most of the important respects it’s surprisingly faithful to the original.

It’s the immediate aftermath of WWII, and the departure of the SS Adria, bound for New York, is being held back to await, as First Officer Nadis (Hendriks) explains to Glasgow blowhard MacIver (Gifford), the arrival of a special passenger. When world chess champion Mirko Czentovic (Adorf) arrives aboard with his manager cum flunkey Baranow (Stepánek), MacIver declares himself honored by the delay; as someone with more than a little experience of the chessboard, he can appreciate a man like Czentovic.

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Czentovic (Mario Adorf) and Baranow (Karel Stepánek) arrive at the dockside.

Which is more than Czentovic can do for the Adria or anyone aboard it. It looks like a refugee ship to him, and if he had his druthers he’d travel to his North American tournament in better company. In short, Czentovic is an obnoxiously arrogant toad, a Backpfeifengesicht, and it’s clear some of the Adria’s crew wouldn’t mind decking him.

Nadis tells MacIver that in fact this isn’t the passenger they’re waiting for. The passenger they’re waiting for is someone really special.

When the mystery passenger arrives, in the company of Bishop Ambross (Söhnker), he proves to be 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