Tag Archives: jailbreak

Legend of Rita (2000)

 “To my liberation from the class enemy!”

ritaRita Vogt (Bibiana Beglau) is one member of a West German urban guerilla group (obviously meant to be the RAF) who springs comrade, Andrea (Harald Schrott) from jail. Several people are shot during the jailbreak, and the group goes on the lam to Paris. While in Paris, Rita kills a policeman, and the guerillas are once again on the run–this time they slip into East Germany with the help of Stasi officer Erwin Hull (Martin Wuttke) who befriended Rita when she was recognized upon entering East Berlin before. Since the heat is on the group, Erwin makes an offer–the fugitives can accept a new life–with new identities in East Germany, or they can be flown out to Beirut. While everyone else elects Beirut, Rita decides to stay in East Germany.

Rita assumes a new identity in East Germany, and her adjustment to her environment is at the heart of The Legend of Rita from director Volker Schlondorff. The plot places Rita in some interesting situations. Her first job, for example, is in a factory where she befriends Tatjana (Nadja Uhl). Tatjana loathes East Germany, and would love to live in the West. She can’t understand why Rita (now living under an assumed name) would give up Western freedoms and chose to live under Communist rule. In the meantime, Rita’s former rebelliousness against the state has simply disappeared, and she’s become a drone–speaking the party line and accepting whatever she’s told to do. When Rita’s new identity is threatened, she has little choice but to move on–leaving Tatjana and their budding lesbian affair.

The film fails to fulfill its promise, however, on several layers. Rita becomes a pawn for the Stasi–every move she makes is watched, and every conversation she has is taped. The film could have chosen to tackle some fascinating complex arguments–Rita’s ideology, for example, and the challenge she faces in either rejecting her beliefs or sticking to them in the face of such nauseating, dreary and threatening Orwellian bureaucracy. The plot shows Rita as mindlessly accepting what she is told to do–she doesn’t question her freedoms, and by making Rita a drone, she is a far less interesting character. Instead, the film concentrates on Rita’s two love interests. If you are expecting to discover something about the Red Army Faction here, keep looking. This is not really a film about the RAF.

Director Volker Schlondorff received a great deal of criticism from all sides for this film. At a press showing of the film, some booed and some applauded. There were those who thought his portrayal of the RAF was too ‘soft’ and others who thought he was too harsh. But the fact of the matter remains that Stasi files made public after the collapse of East Germany revealed that some members of the RAF were indeed given sanctuary by the GDR. In German with English subtitles.

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Filed under German, Political/social films, Volker Schlondorff

Brute Force (1947)

“Force does make leaders.”

Westgate Prison is a powder keg. It’s overcrowded, and the prisoners are treated inhumanely. Warden, A.J. Barnes (Roman Bohan) can’t seem to control the prison, and he’s being eased out by Captain Munsey (Hume Crohn). Munsey is the villain of the film. He has his own ideas about running the prison, and Munsey can’t wait to install some real discipline. His corrupt methods include maintaining stoolies in the system and beating prisoners to get information out of them. In contrast to Munsey, is the prisoner Collins (Burt Lancaster) who effectively leads a prison break. Collins possesses the sensitivity and humanity that the fascist Munsey lacks. The two men are the antithesis of one another.

Several of the prisoners in cell R17 recall their relationships with women in flashback. Collins, for example, is shown tenderly ministering to his beloved–a sunny girl in a wheelchair. Another character has a dalliance with Yvonne de Carlo who hams up her role with an incredibly bad accent.

For film noir fans, however, Brute Force is worth catching for the sheer audacity of the prison break. While this, unfortunately takes place all too briefly at the end of the film, these scenes reveal the film’s power. The film’s message is clear–treat the prisoners like animals, and animals they will become. The sheer hate and violence that’s been simmering in these desperate men is suddenly unleashed at the prison system. This superb latter section of the film is gritty, realistic and savagely violent. Munsey reveals his true evil nature while many prisoners sacrifice their lives in an attempt to even the score. For this ultimate realism, Brute Force is an astonishing film. From director Jules Dassin.

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Filed under Film Noir

Dillinger (1945)

The film Dillinger charts the rise and fall of notorious gangster John Dillinger. The story presented distills his elaborate career, but some of the salient details are included. Dillinger’s involvement with Baby Face Nelson, for example, is not mentioned once, but that is probably due to the fact that we are supposed to concentrate on the story of Dillinger and not suffer distraction with the crimes of another notorious gangster. In the film, John Dillinger (Lawrence Tierney) begins his criminal career as a petty crook, but a botched robbery sends him to prison. Here, Dillinger connects with career criminals, and he’s admitted to their gang. Dillinger is released and then plans a bold jailbreak for the rest of the gang. Now on the loose, the gang begins a series of bank robberies. Soon Dillinger is on the FBI’s most wanted list …

When the film begins, Tierney plays Dillinger as not very bright, but he soon shifts into the seasoned stone-cold killer whose methodical violence created headline after headline. Dillinger’s character–as defined by the film–does not permit any explosive scenes. So Tierney’s performance can’t match–let’s say–Paul Muni in Scarface or Richard Widmark as Tommy Ugo in Kiss of Death. A fascinating character here is Helen Rogers (Anne Jeffreys), Dillinger’s girlfriend–the gangster’s moll who loads up on expensive gee-gaws while conveniently ignoring the source. From director Max Nosseck.

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Filed under Gangster

Dark Passage (1947)

 “I was a small time crook until this very minute. Now I’m a big time crook, and I like it.”

dark-passageDark Passage, directed by Delmer Daves, is a marvelous noir title set in San Francisco and starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Based on a novel by David Goodis, Sid Hickox’s stylish cinematography highlights the city through some spectacular, atmospheric shots. Dark Passage is in many ways a peculiar film. We don’t see Bogart’s face for a large portion of the film, and instead the camera acts most of the time as Bogart’s eyes.

The film begins with the escape of Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) from San Quentin. With sirens wailing and dogs baying, Parry flags down a car for a ride. Now at this point, Parry is shirtless, and he looks and acts suspicious. After Parry cold cocks the driver of his first ride for asking too many questions, he meets wealthy, beautiful Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall). She’s an artist and claims she was painting near San Quentin. Fully aware that she has a fugitive on her hands, she stuffs Parry into her car, hides him under a stack of canvases, and drives him into San Francisco past various roadblocks and police checkpoints.

Back at Irene’s plush apartment, Parry discovers why Irene is sympathetic to his case. Parry was serving a sentence in San Quentin for murdering his wife, and apparently Irene’s father died in San Quentin after being convicted of murdering his second wife, Irene’s stepmother. Irene believed in her father’s innocence, and she also believes in Parry’s innocence. In fact, drawn to the similarities between her father’s case and Parry’s, she attended every day of Parry’s trial.

Parry was convicted mainly on the testimony of the acidic Madge Rapf (Agnes Moorehead), and unfortunately she’s a presence in Irene’s life too. Irene, it seems, dates Bob (Bruce Bennett), and Madge isn’t exactly ready to let Bob go. In fact Madge is one of those women who doesn’t let anyone go once she has her hooks in him. And apparently, she once had her hooks in Parry….

While the film’s coincidences weaken the plot a trifle, Dark Passage is still an exquisite film. One of the many things I really liked about this film is the way that whenever Parry steps outside of Irene’s apartment, he rapidly gets himself into trouble. He’s definitely not street smart, and the impression is that he cannot survive out there in the tough, cold world for long. Each scene is beautifully constructed: the all-night cafe, the bus station, the cliff top fight, shots of the Golden Gate Bridge and Madge’s apartment. Dark Passage really is a work of art on all levels, and if you are a noir fan, you shouldn’t miss this one.

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Filed under Film Noir