BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ (Piel Jutzi, 1931)

A superficial though fascinating film, if for no other reason than the fact that Alfred Döblin himself helped adapt his 1929 novel, Piel Jutzi’s Berlin Alexanderplatz attempts a social underbelly-up portrait of the Wiemar Republic. (Karl Heinz Martin and Hans Wilhelm also worked on the script.) Its launch the release from prison, after four years, of Franz Bieberkopf, the film, strangely, never quite brings its protagonist into focus, despite (or because of) Heinrich George’s bellicose performance; Franz’s attraction to crime seems less a matter of economic necessity than a point of personal weakness, and Franz, himself, seems more a stubborn individual case than a hapless Everyman. Indeed, much of the film seems dictated by plot; film historian Eric Rhode thus refers to its “inert technique.” However, the opening passage is brilliant, promising a livelier presentation; Jutzi brandishes expressionistic devices as Franz’s first taste of freedom, a trolley ride, ironically and dizzyingly conveys an urban world too headlong-quick for the slowdown of his consciousness that sustained confinement has brought about. Increasingly, though, the film merely hits a series of narrative marks—so much so that even Reinhold Hoffmann’s murder of Mieze, Franz’s sweetheart, cannot shake it out of its stupor of complacency. To say the least, this is a disappointing film.

Jutzi’s Berlin Alexanderplatz certainly has its moments (such as when Franz, a free-spending patron, sings at his table in a nightclub how life “comes once around”), but it pales in comparison to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s later 15½-hour version (1980), which, I have written, “finds humanity mirroring the disintegrating social order.” Nor does George even remotely measure up to Günter Lamprecht’s titanic performance as Bieberkopf.

The best performance comes from Bernhard Minetti as Hoffmann, here, a deceptively mild-eyed snake.

Splendid: Jutzi’s brief documentary glimpses of Berlin.

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