Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. USA, 1948. Paramount Pictures. Screenplay by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, Richard L. Breen, adaptation by Robert Harari, based on an original story by David Shaw. Cinematography by Charles Lang. Produced by Charles Brackett. Music by Friedrich Hollaender. Production Design by Hans Dreier, Walter H. Tyler. Costume Design by Edith Head. Film Editing by Doane Harrison. Academy Awards 1948.
Billy Wilder moves towards a golden age of fifties classics in his filmography with this postwar masterpiece featuring stunning cinematography and unforgettable performances. The chipper optimism that Jean Arthur always brought to Capra films is given a dark, authoritative edge in her masterful portrayal of an American congresswoman who is sent as the head of a delegation to determine the morale of soldiers stationed in a desperate and divided Berlin. She expects to find homesick men in need of their government’s support but instead is embroiled in black market shopping and observes some good times with the local German women who kiss for nylons and chocolate. Arthur’s tight hairdo and icy demeanor eventually soften when serviceman John Lund makes eyes at her to throw her off the trail of a German cabaret singer (a superb Marlene Dietrich) whose past Nazi ties have made her a suspect for war crimes. It’s a comedy with a great deal of laughs that never undermine the subject matter, balancing light and dark elements to perfection and including location footage of ruined Berlin between gorgeous sequences of Dietrich singing songs that would become signature tunes for her, “Illusions” and “Black Market”. It’s sexy and still feels so modern, but the shadowy photography also makes it a nostalgic indulgence of the highest order.