Monday, March 24, 2014

VERBOTEN! (1959)

In the German village of Rothbach during the last days of World War II, David, an American soldier (James Best) is trying to draw out a sniper. When he's wounded, a young German girl named Helga (Susan Cummings) tends to him; he's wary but she insists she's not a Nazi, though they debate the complicity of the German people in Hitler's reign of terror. She and her young brother Franz (Harold Daye) hide him until the Americans come through to finish cleaning out the town. He falls in love with Helga but any relationship with her would be "verboten," or forbidden under military rules. After Germany's surrender, David returns to Rothbach, a civilian now, working for the Army with refugees and no longer forbidden to woo Helga. But Helga is surrounded by people, led by a neighbor named Bruno (Tom Pittman), who belong to a group called the Werewolves; emboldened by rumors that Hitler isn't really dead, they believe that they can rally the people and fight off the occupiers. When Franz begins falling under the spell of the other Nazi youths, she takes him to Nuremberg to witness the war crime trials. He begins to see the light, but can any of them stop Bruno's gang of terrorists?

We're in director Samuel Fuller's territory here, meaning things get sloppy but intense. It's a scrappy little black & white movie, partly scored to Beethoven and Wagner—one effective segment has Wagner playing over scenes of terrorist activities by the Werewolves, who are dismissed by the Army as merely juvenile delinquents. The forbidden romance between Best and Cummings never really heats up, and in fact is shunted off to the back burner when the focus switches to her brother and his torn allegiances; it feels like he wants to believe his sister but also feels peer pressure to run with the Bruno and his buddies. The actors are fine, especially Best, and Pittman is very good—sadly he died at the age of 26 before this film was released, from injuries sustained in a car accident. Best, handsome in an almost teen-idol way, went on to a long career in TV, probably known best as Sheriff Roscoe in The Dukes of Hazzard. Actual footage of Berlin and Nuremberg is used to good effect, as is a brief shot of concentration camp atrocities at the trials. There is one major misstep, and it's right at the beginning: a lush theme song with the refrain, "Our love is verboten," sung by the young Paul Anka. Get past that and you'll enjoy the rest. [TCM]

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