MURDERERS ARE AMONG US (Wolfgang Staudte, 1946)

The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from Germany, Scandinavia, Finland & Austria list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

Murderers Are Among Us had been the title Fritz Lang intended for M, but German censors rejected the implication of collective guilt. The first postwar German film, by Wolfgang Staudte, embraced the notion.
     The script is contrived. Upon returning home to Berlin from a liberated Nazi camp, Susanne Wallner finds Hans Mertens living in her apartment. Because of the atrocities he witnessed as an army officer, Mertens drinks to excess, but, after initial sparring, the two fall in love. Mertens decides to kill his former commanding officer, who now runs a factory and celebrates at Christmastime with his employees. At Christmastime in 1942, in Poland, this same man ordered the execution of one hundred innocent civilians in response to a single anonymous shot fired at his company. In the nick of time, Susanne stays Hans’s hand, saying, “We shouldn’t pass sentence.” Hans agrees, adding, “but we must make charges.” At the close, the former captain is behind bars, vociferously protesting his innocence on the basis of war’s requirements.
     Thus was launched trummerfilme, the genre of fictional films amidst Berlin’s rubble that dominated German cinema right after the war. But Staudte’s entry was never surpassed; the pseudo-documentary shot of faces in the street that introduces Susanne is brilliant. A broken mirror, the broken windows, the bombed-out buildings: broken dreams; broken lives.
     Indeed, this is a film of unforgettable shots, and none more so than the Langian one of Hans confronting his former captain, his shadow, the only part of Hans that’s visible, expressionistically huge, in which the monster against the wall cowers and begs for life—but absent any recognition by him of his evil.
     Murderers Are Among Us was East German before East Germany came into being.

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