Love triangles are hard and they have to be done well, this is such a movie where it is done well, with Billy Wilder’s classic touches as well as heart. I love Billy Wider’s work, from Sunset Boulevard (1950) to Some Like it Hot (1959) and to see this early one of his is a treat for anyone interested in his work as well as the story itself.
It is 1947 and America sends a few members of their Congress to Berlin to visit the troops and to see everything is above board, among them is Phoebe Frost. Upon arriving she meets Captain John Pringle who unbeknownst to her dabbles in the Black Market and is enamoured with Erika von Schlütow, a former mistress of Nazi members and who now sings at a cabaret. Phoebe Frost hears that Erika von Schlütow is having an affair with some American in the army, she just doesn’t know who. Captain John Pringle end up as her helper in finding out who the army man is who is seeing Erika von Schlütow, while trying his best to keep her off his trail.
This is quite early Billy Wilder and even though its categorised as a Romantic Comedy, the latter part is less emphasised than the former.
Jean Arthur as Phoebe Frost is spectacular as the icy (pun intended), matter-of-a-fact, organised and dedicated Republican Congresswoman who grows out of her shell while still retaining the heart that made us care for her in the first place. She might be considered plain by the standards of the day, but she is far more of a natural beauty than anything. Her transformation is not one of cliché’s; sure she might put on a beautiful dress, some makeup, loosen up and fall in love, but that love doesn’t sacrifice her core being or intelligence and it is beautiful how Jean Arthur makes it so natural.
Marlene Dietrich as Erika von Schlütow is no other than Marlene Dietrich. A femme-fatale with a mean spirited tongue when it comes to other women and who knows what power she holds when she sings, or really does anything. But underneath that coldness is someone who has seen war, the toil and now needs to survive since everyone is out for themselves now.
John Lund as Captain John Pringle was apparently in Wilder’s terms “Cary Grant when you can’t get Cary Grant” and it partly shows in his performance, though I suspect John Lund had more heart than suave. He speaks the classic Wilder wit in the script in to the perfect deadpan snark they are meant to be said, his eyes emote and his gestures tell more than anything about what Captain John Pringle is going through, making him sometimes both unsympathetic and sympathetic to him spending on the scene. I personally never started to hate him, but there are scenes that to modern eyes might seem a bit forced, for the lack of a better word, but that is to be expected considering the time this was made.
All in all the characters work together perfectly as foils for one another. One hot, one cold, the other joking while the other is serious and it all becomes an invisible ball of character drama that we root for and can’t take eyes off the screen.
This slightly forgotten Billy Wilder classic makes us see the hope and love in a ruined city where the Nazi power has gone, but the shadow of it looms like a cloud above this whole movie. There is the Black Market, the hunger for sugar or anything sweet, weekly raids, talk of sectors and gas chambers, ruined buildings and a feeling that this is a country that is going to build itself up, but it will need time for it to bloom again, this time better.
Thank you for reading!